Ex-convict and former gang leader Abdul Chappell shared lyrics he wrote about the Las Vegas Trail area.
“I yearn to tell all that I seen/ So you won’t go through the same/ Please take the path of better choices/ So you won’t end up in a cage.”
Chappell grew up in the Las Vegas Trail area, which Fort Worth police and city officials say is overrun with crime and unemployment.
The Las Vegas Trail is a street that stretches for about a mile from Interstate 30 to Camp Bowie Boulevard.
Councilman Brian Byrd organized the second of several meetings Monday night to hear from residents how best to reduce crime and increase opportunities in the area.
“We got really interested in this when we heard the story of a 12-year-old little girl who was trafficked, impregnated and the only reason she escaped is she beat on the door and the walls of the Knights Inn where she was being held,” Byrd said. “When I heard about that, I thought, that’s it. We can’t put up with that over here.”
Just a couple blocks away from the Knights Inn, residents gathered at a meeting at the Western Hills Elementary School.
Byrd said he wanted to hear from residents like Chappell, who was in and out of prison or juvenile detention centers since his teenage years.
Chappell said he started the Las Vegas Trail branch of the Los Angeles-based Crips street gang.
“I was a pretty bad guy,” Chappell said. “But if people can see me change, they know they can change.”
While in prison, Chappell earned his associate’s degree in business and marketing and wrote nine books.
He won two appeals and was released eight years early in 2014, when he started the Build a Better Hood Foundation to keep kids from falling into crime.
Chappell said he has spoken to 10,000 students in Fort Worth high schools and middle schools.
His foundation provides free boundaries classes, women empowerment classes, art classes for kids, after-school reading and job training, he said.
But he and other volunteers in the room said they wanted to see more support for their programs.
Chappell wants to see a community center built in the neighborhood.
“There’s nothing for the kids to do, no community center, no parks out here,” he said. “So what do you expect for kids to do if they’re running around and there’s nothing to do… A lot of people made mistakes when they were teens, they just didn’t get caught and go to jail for it.”
Laretta Smith, who directs local outreach at Birchman Baptist Church, pointed out a lack of affordable housing. She said the rent at hotels or apartments is already exorbitant for the quality they provide.
“They come to me begging me to pay for them to be in this horrible hotel,” Smith said.
She expressed concern that residents could be evicted if housing renovations increase the cost of living.
“Is there something that’s going to help with that, with the housing, with opening up housing so they can get on it,” she asked, “and some restriction so that when these apartments are fixed, they’re not going to go up on the rent so that the people that are living there cannot afford it?”
The Rev. Doreen Haley, a resident of Las Vegas Trail and a veteran, said volunteers should step outside of their comfort zones to find people who don’t look like the 130 attendees at Monday’s meeting.
“If you really want to make a difference, Las Vegas Trail don’t look like the people in this room,” Haley said. “You got clothes that are serviceable, that don’t have holes in them, that are not dirty. You don’t smell.” She repeated, “That is not what Las Vegas Trail looks like.”
Haley said volunteers should meet residents where they are.
“Come to the street, talk to the people, gather up some names, and find out who wants to be a part of something real that you have,” she said.
Byrd and other city leaders said that change in the Las Vegas Trail area would come from people like Chappell, who they described as an “ambassador.”
“I’m out here in the streets sometimes two or three o’clock in the morning,” Chappell said. “There would be a lot more shootings, and there would be a lot more crime and stuff going on if a lot of us with Build a Better Hood weren’t out here in the streets.”
Chappell shared some of the last few lines of his original song, “Thank You for Livin.'” The song touches on one his principal goals as an activist, to rebuild his “[neighbor]hood.”
“Now they done took enough of our children/ It’s time to build the hood up/ And get our babies back.”