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Former Detroit Gang Member Now A Gang Peacemaker

Youth

By Michael H. Cottman, Urban News Service

Ray Winans, once affectionately known as “Killer Ray,” is helping reduce gun violence in Detroit — one gang member at a time.

The 37-year-old former gang member is an unconventional activist who mediates among gangs, police and federal prosecutors while encouraging young black men to end their lives of crime and hand their guns over to officials.

Winans explained he has attended too many funerals for young black men killed in violent confrontations. He has persuaded 10 young men to stop associating with Detroit’s gangs since 2014, according to Winans and police. 

“I never thought I would ever work with the police and it changed my whole view of law enforcement,” he told Urban News Service. “Now I’m working with friends in gangs and their children in gangs.”

A former member of the Head Banger Bloods, Winans and his wife, Shaelon, co-founded Keeping Them Alive in 2012. This non-profit agency is dedicated to ending gun violence in Detroit.

Winans runs his initiative on a modest budget through donations, his own money and a $10,000 grant he received in 2013 from the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement project.

Winans faces tough odds in his quest: Homicide is the leading cause of death among American black men between the ages of 15 and 34, the Centers for Disease Control reports. And only 50 percent of black youth feel confident they will live to age 35, according to the American Sociological Association and the Journal of Health and Social Behavior

The challenge, Winans said, can be summed up in one word: Trust. Gang members can relate to him because of his own violent past.

When he was 15, Winans was convicted of manslaughter following a fit of anger in Detroit, according to both him and police. Winans said he was charged as a juvenile and served three years in jail for beating Chester Bownes to death with a hammer. Winans said he was freed at age 18 from High Plains Youth Center in Brush, Colorado.

(Winans’ juvenile court records are sealed, a police source said, so he could not identify the victim nor confirm the spelling of his name.)

After his release, Winans was in and out of jail until 2009. But six years ago, his life changed. 

“I told God, ‘I am willing to get a job and not hurt anybody anymore,’” he said. “In 2010, I gave my life to Christ and started working in a local grocery store. The news spread like wildfire and gang members were coming to the store to see for themselves.”

Today, the father of five tries to quiet Detroit’s guns. There were 295 homicides in 2015 and 1,035 non-fatal shootings in Michigan’s largest city, according to police data. Detroit is America’s most dangerous city, according to FBI crime statistics for 2015.

Winans’ partnership with Detroit police is a “highly unusual relationship, but very effective,” said Sgt. Edward Brannock, head of the department’s gang intelligence unit.

Winans joined Brannock recently to teach community mediation and gang intervention to 25 Detroit police officers, community outreach workers and the department’s chaplain.

“I’ve called on Ray in high-stress situations,” Brannock  said. “We’ve been on shootings together. He’s pulled gang members out of school and helped us locate an AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm Glock that a suspect was hiding in a dope house. And he’s helped me close cases.”

“Who would ever think that a guy who was in prison for manslaughter would be working this closely with law enforcement?”

Saul Green, a former Detroit deputy mayor and former U.S. attorney for  Michigan’s Eastern District under President Bill Clinton, said Winans’ work with police and gang members is remarkable.

“I’ve been around public safety in Detroit for a long time and I have not met another person who is bringing this kind of positive change to this community,” Green said. “Ray works with young men morning, noon, nights and weekends. We need 1,000 more Rays in Detroit.”

Gang members, meanwhile, say Winans offers them a second chance to succeed in life.

Anthony Crews, 18, quit the East Warren gang after meeting with Winans in 2013. Since then, he has enrolled in a jobs program for people on probation.

“I trust him,” said Crews. “He has never lied to me and he’s always there for me. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”

The Inland Empire Walking Diva, Yolanda Holder, is at it Again, Breaking Unthinkable Goals

Yolanda Holder

Yolanda Holder

By Cecilia Harris

Yolanda Holder is a twice Guinness World Book record holder, a mother of two grown children, a wife, a power walker, and a goal achiever.  Seven years ago, when she turned 50, she wanted to challenge herself to do something different in her life.  Her kids were in college.  So she decided to walk – power walk – 50 marathons in 50 weeks.  She did not succeed.

Instead, in October 2008 when she finished her 50th marathon (Silicon Valley Marathon) she realized that she still had more time left in the year.  So she completed 65 marathons in 52 weeks.  This was her start that has no end.  In 2009, she went on to complete another 77 marathons/ultras.  She would complete an ultra marathon (50K) on a Saturday and then complete a marathon on a Sunday.  It wasn’t until November 2009 that she realized that she was different—so different that Runner’s World has yet to do a story on her—because she is NOT a runner.  Yolanda has never been a runner.  When you are runner, you can slow down and walk.  But when you are a walker, how do you slow down?  You are already walking!  It is not easy to be a power walker.  But no one said life was easy.

After contacting Guinness to find out if there were any other women who had completed more marathons in a year, she completed 106 in 2010.  Her first World Record.  But runners were still not giving her respect. 

In 2011, she cut down on her events and only completed 50-60 marathons.  She was still referred to as “just a walker.”  And in her mind she was not an athlete.

But 2012, she was determined to set the record straight – a second Guinness World Record!  She not only completed 120 events, but she power walked three 100-milers, two 50-milers, 40 50Ks, and 75 marathons in one year.  Bam – in your face runners!  Yolanda was now a world champion walker; and an athlete.

2013 brought a total of 300 lifetime marathons before having major surgery in November 2014.  And on February 14, 2015, she hit the mark for 500 lifetime marathons/ultras. 

It was in Alaska at her first 6-day event.  She power walked 403 miles, placing 3rd for women and 10th overall out of 100 runners.  Only about 15 Americans competed.  The multiple-day ultra is more popular around the world than in the United States.  But that may be changing. 

Yolanda has since completed two other 6-day events (getting on the podium in all three) and will be competing in her first 10-day event “Sri Chinmony 10 Day Race April 19 – 29, 2016, Queens New York.  Yolanda will be breaking Sutushi Lang (USA)  19 year record (510 miles) and will be the second American Woman to run or walk a 10 Day Race.

Yolanda believes the human body is amazing.  “If you treat it well – run, walk, ride a bike – the body will achieve what the mind believes.  Physical, mental, anything – it can be done.  Positive thinking and believing – believing got me through it,” proclaims Yolanda.

After losing her father in 2003 and then her mother in 2013, Yolanda needed to honor her parents and take a stand against Type 2 diabetes.  With her sponsor, Nissan, she walked from Corona to Oakland – 525 miles – to raise funds and awareness for the devastation that diabetes has and is causing in the African American community.  She believes that you don’t have to be a runner. You don’t have to go to the gym 7 days a week.  But you have to be responsible to yourself and move.  A little today, a little more tomorrow, a little to save your life so that your kids don’t have to keep picking up the phone to call you only to remember that you are gone – too soon.

Today, there are lots of people who have done a 5K or a 10K.  The numbers of participants in half marathons has exploded.  And it is not elite athletes that are building these numbers.  It is the middle-aged woman who decided that she didn’t want to sit on the couch anymore.  It is the young girl who has joined her girlfriends to walk for a cause.  And soon, the ultra – the 100 miler – is going to be the new 26.2.  Because you don’t have to win, you just have to complete.  And if you want to win, that’s okay too.

Today, Yolanda has completed 527 lifetime marathons/ultras.  She is competitive, but she still will make time for a selfie or two out on the course.  He father would always tell her, “I can never help my family,” and she lives this as well being one of eleven siblings, three with diabetes.  She inspires who she can.  This is her lifestyle.  She believes the average person can do anything.   Know your goal.  Stick to your plan.  Believe.  Achieve.

Social Lites, Inc. Host Inaugural Healthy Living Seminar

Front L/R: Joyce Smith, VP Social Lites, Inc., Cynthia Wilhite, Social Lites,, Inc. Member and Chairman, Edna Wade. Back Row L/R: Zonte Walker, Julian Houston, Donovan Ferguson, Tyree Walk, Courtney Wilson, Terrance Bradshaw, Brigitte Shaw, Twillea Evans-Carthen, Linda Hart, Ariella Houston, and Madison Gill

Front L/R: Joyce Smith, VP Social Lites, Inc., Cynthia Wilhite, Social Lites,, Inc. Member and Chairman, Edna Wade. Back Row L/R: Zonte Walker, Julian Houston, Donovan Ferguson, Tyree Walk, Courtney Wilson, Terrance Bradshaw, Brigitte Shaw, Twillea Evans-Carthen, Linda Hart, Ariella Houston, and Madison Gill

SAN BERNARDINO, CA- Social Lites, Inc. under the leadership of Bettye Brewster, president, held its inaugural healthy living seminar on Saturday, April 2, at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino.  According to the chairperson of the event, Cynthia Wilhite, “Healthy leaving is a lifestyle that needs to be developed and practiced.”  Daily monitoring of healthy choices will help to develop a healthy habit in balancing, nutrition, exercise, and rest.

Brigitte Shaw educated attendees to pay attention to their mental health as well as their physical health.  Dr. Steve Wilson of “In Your Best Interest Medical Clinic,” was among the guest speakers who inspired attendees to work towards preventive care to avoid sickness and illnesses, including heart disease by way of making healthy food choices.

Healthy leaving is more than diet and exercise.  Rest and creating healthy habits is key.  “The life in front of you is far more important than the life behind you.” Educational information both oral and written were provided to all along with healthy snacks. Participants left the event expressing the morning seminar was time well spent in a relaxed environment to “Learn, Grow and Live Healthy!