I’m a huge fan of non-fiction pieces. Books, movies, lectures, you name it. I’m especially intrigued by human-interest stories. There’s just something about learning from others experiences, their hardships, their accomplishments, etc. that fascinates me. Maybe it’s because these types of stories provide a glimpse of something completely unknown and provide a different perspective than my own life. Anyway, I like these stories and you’ll find my bookshelf and Netflix queue full of ‘true stories’.
On that note, I just finished Gang Leader for a Day (Sudhir Venkatesh) a fascinating story on the high-level basics of how a gang once operated in Chicago’s South Side housing projects. (note, the author’s findings were highlighted in Freakanomics) The premise? The author, Sudhir, is a sociology graduate student at the University of Chicago and as part of his studies, somehow manages to infiltrate the Black Kings, a well-respected and prominent gang in Chicago. He spends roughly 10 years spending time with the gang’s leaders, as well as those leaders within the housing projects, and documents his experiences. It’s a good book and while I would have loved to have seen a bit more depth in the development of the book’s primary characters, I found the story absolutely intriguing…especially when you compare the gang’s operations and management to that of a typical American corporation (or small business for that matter). Basically, your standard business functions and principles still apply:
- Product: If you don’t have a good product that doesn’t fulfill a need, you won’t have customers. For example, if you’re selling diluted crack and your customers pick up on it, they’ll go to your competitor.
- Customers: The key to gang’s operations. You need to find way of attracting customers and making sure they stay loyal. If the police keep coming by your storefront or rival gangs swing by for a quick ‘drive by’, your customers get scared, they don’t return and you ultimately lose business.
- Business Development: How you forge partnerships with others within the community is critical. Making sure that local businesses, the YMCA, resident leaders of the housing project, hustlers, and even the police are somehow ‘involved’ in your operations is an absolute necessity. Ultimately, these relationships make for a smoother operation, and in many cases, help in the distribution of product.
- Management: The biggest issue highlighted in the book was leading and managing gang members (the majority of whom are ‘foot soldiers’ selling crack). How do you motivate these members? How do you discipline when they’ve made mistakes and how do you resolve conflict? And even more importantly, how do you identify future leaders within the gang?
What’s even more surprising (beyond the ‘gang as a corporation’ comparison) is that the Black Kings seemed to hold the community together. While they were responsible for some of the violence, death and destruction, they also served as protector, mediator, and provider. Basically, the community really couldn’t operate without the Black Kings.
So why did this book fascinate me? I don’t know a thing about illegal gang activity…shocker. My impression of inner-city gang activity and management is purely shaped by Hollywood and Rap/Hip Hop music…which is certainly a limited view. Gang Leader for a Day gave me that brief glimpse into a different way of life, one that I certainly don’t condone, but one that I also won’t be as quick to judge in the future.
Questions, Comments, Concerns? Feel free to comment below.