violence in chicago

A Former Chicago Gang Member's Second Chance and the Man Who Made it Possible

Jermaine Rhodes joined a gang as a child in Chicago. It wasn't until years later when his life changed forever, thanks to a chance encounter

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Jermaine Rhodes never saw a better option.

His relatives were gang members, so naturally, he became involved, too.

"I started selling drugs in school at first," the Chicago resident explained. "Then, I moved to the corner around 14 or 15. And from there life got kind of good for a while. You get all the money, all the girls, all the clout, you get to drive nice cars."

Then, the bad part.

"Getting shot at, getting robbed, losing childhood friends," Rhodes said. "I lost a lot of friends in them streets."

At the same time, a gang chief sat in prison, locked up for a shooting that occurred on the very same Chicago corner.

"I was selling narcotics, you know, and me and a guy got in a shootout," Reginald Berry explained in an interview. "I was sentenced to 33 years for murder."

In his cell, Berry had an epiphany.

"I prayed about it, and the message came to me to return to help," he said. "I came back to Pulaski Road right to my old stomping grounds."

There, Berry found a new mission for his life, and encountered a young man - Rhodes.

For the first time in my life I had someone I could disappoint, and I refused to do it.

Jermaine Rhodes

"As I’m looking around, I saw this little guy on the corner," he stated. "I said 'I’m Reggie Berry, Reggie Berry, the chief of the Fools.'"

"He wasn’t talking like no gang member," Rhodes recounted.

The young man wasn't willing to listen, but Berry didn't give up.

"I’m seeing myself like déjà vu, and I said 'listen here shorty, if you give me six months of your life, I’ll change your life,'" Berry said.

He delivered a blunt message: gang life ends in the jail or the grave.

"For the first time I had somebody who saw something else in me other than 'he ain't gonna be nothing, he won’t make it past 21,'" Rhodes said. "...For the first time in my life I had someone I could disappoint, and I refused to do it. I can’t, and I won’t disappoint Reginald Berry."

Berry knew that in order to get young men like Rhodes off the streets, he had to offer better options, like jobs. He made a connection at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, home to television shows including Chicago Fire and Chicago PD.

He asked the company to give Rhodes a chance, and he never looked back.

"It’s just something about being that person on set," Rhodes said. "You aren’t doing nothing without me. That camera's not working without me, that light's not setting without me. It's like I run the set without running the set."

Through the foundation "Saving Our Sons," the duo hopes their success story can be repeated.

"I feel like if we had more role models in the hood, it would change," Rhodes said.

"I was just trying to do a good deed, but this is guy is contagious, you know," Berry said. "He latches on, and you become addicted to him."

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