Former gang member Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams is featured in The Interrupters and will be visiting the island to speak on violence. *Photo supplied
Former gang member Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams is featured in The Interrupters and will be visiting the island to speak on violence. *Photo supplied
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19: Former gang member Ricardo “Cobe” Williams was last week honoured with a Heroes’ Award at Chicago Ideas Week for his work in reducing violence in the community. He’s come a long way after spending 12 years in prison for drug dealing and attempted murder. Now he is a “violence interrupter” for international anti-violence group CeaseFire. Williams stars in upcoming Bermuda Documentary Film Festival’s The Interrupters by Academy Award-winning director Steve James. Williams will be on the island from Friday with a positive message to the island’s youth. We caught up with him ahead of his visit.

 

What would be your main message to those involved in gangs and violence in Bermuda?

Stay focused and don’t ever let nobody tell you — you can’t be somebody. You can be positive and productive. Me, myself have been there I was part of gangs all my life, even as a kid and people always told me ‘you aint going to amount to nothing’. It’ll take time — it won’t happen over night but you have to work on it right now.

What made you turn you life around and help the community?

I was involved in gangs, I was gang banging and selling drugs I wanted to make a big difference and change in my life. After three different stints in jail I just wanted to do something different, I wanted to be a father to my son because I grew up without my father. He was imprisoned for murder when I was three years old and when I was eleven he got killed. I wanted to make a big change because a lot of people said they didn’t think I would make it to 18 — you are going to follow your father’s footsteps. He was my role model and he was selling drugs and in a gang — that’s who I looked up to. I started seeing what CeaseFire was doing in the community — all the marching about stopping the violence and the killing. I joined CeaseFire in 2005  doing volunteer work. I knew the people and gangs in the community so they ended up hiring me. Now I am a national trainer for CeaseFire — I go out traveling to train in New York, Baltimore, Philadephia Kansas City and Phoenix.

How do you get them to listen to you?

First of all you have to be thinking on your feet and have a credible message. If you ‘aint lived that life then it will be hard. One way I get through it is to not be judgemental — we don’t judge nobody. We meet people where they’re at and try to make some sense out of everything. We let them know that just because you have a disagreement you don’t have to shoot nobody or hurt nobody. You have to be patient and be understanding with these guys you never know what’s going on at home — a lot of them come from broken homes.

Have you ever come into conflict in your work?

The job is dangerous everyday. Once I was talking to somebody a guy just pulled up and started shooting and two people got shot. He looked at me and I looked at him and I just rolled off. This is dangerous and I have had co-workers who got shot.

Do you think it helps that you have been in their position?

That makes a big difference because I was part of the problem and now I am part of the solution.

It does make us real credible at this type of work because we have lived that life before. It helps to get in and talk to these guys.

What was it like to be honoured with the Heroes’ Award?

They honour a few people who they look at as heroes who are trying to make a difference every day in the community — trying to make the streets a safe place. They honoured two of my co-workers too.

I felt good to get that honour it made me know that people really appreciate what we do and we make a big difference.

The film’s Academy Award-winning director Steve James said you should have your own Cable show.

Why do you think he said that?

I’m not sure why he said that but I am sincere about what I do, I work hard and I build a lot of relationships and everybody know me.

Did you have any doubts about being featured in the film?

At first I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of it because I wasn’t sure how they might show it then I thought about it and I thought man, if I changed my life for the best then I don’t mind showing what I do out here every day to save somebody’s life.

How can the community help the situation more?

The community at large has to listen more and don’t down nobody. Listen to them and see what they are coming with and build relationships with them.