Third time’s a charm is the theme of the gala the organization Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes a.k.a. G.M.A.C.C. is hosting on May 4th at the Sand Castle in Long Island, NY. The event will host community leaders and elected officials who work and support the organization and its work with gun violence. This will be the second year the founder of the organization, Shanduke McPhatter will be without his brother Ronald Edgar “Banga” McPhatter. He was tragically killed due to gun violence at Irving Plaza in 2016. Shanduke sat down with The Source to talk about his organization, their goals for the future, and how his family is coping with the ongoing tragedy.
The Source: There always seems to be a theme for your annual galas. What is the theme for this year’s Gangtsa Gala?
Shanduke McPhatter: This year’s theme is third time’s a charm. The first year we focused on community leaders on the frontline and it was an introduction to the Gangsta Gala. It was about me changing my mindset from my lifestyle to non-traditional work. The theme for the second year was A Heroes Honor in the memory of my brother and his contribution to the organization. This year we want to make people understand what we do. They hear the name and see the media we receive, but fail to understand what we do preventing violence in the community. We want to show where we started, where we are at now, and where we are looking to go. I’m hosting the gala this year to explain the vision. The keynote speaker will be New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams.
The Source: The Gangsta Gala is the organization’s main driver for funding. Can you speak to the importance of the event?
Shanduke McPhatter: We are a registered 501C3 organization. The gala is our main fundraiser. We hold it at the same place, have the same food, and maintain the same experience. We just want to replicate the success we had with the gala in the past. There will be a live auction and raffles. The tickets are $150. We don’t have millionaires that donate to us. We are on the frontlines. We rely on funding from New York City. We don’t do consistent fundraising drives throughout the year. Even though the ticket price sounds high, we need people to understand that it’s a different level of work we do. If people attend, they can learn about the organization and meet people who are in this work and passionate about it. We are bringing some at-risk youth we work with and families who have been affected by gun violence.
The Source: What has been the response in the community from the work your organization does?
Shanduke McPhatter: We have seen some positive changes in the community. We work with the inmates on Rikers Island. Recently, one of our staff had an issue there that was unfortunate, but we are going to move forward and continue to work there and with the formerly incarcerated. We also work with and train uniformed and non-uniformed staff at the New York City Department of Corrections.
The Source: There is a lot of debate going on about the future of Rikers. What is your view on the debate and conversation around what should happen to the institution?
Shanduke McPhatter: I was incarcerated on Rikers in 1994.The violence there pushed me to become a Blood and that violence has continued. I identified with returning to community and my experience being glamorized. That all tied together from the streets to being on Rikers. That is why we are working with the inmates in Rikers to change that mindset. As far as the debate, it seems to be centered on getting the number to a certain level and then seeing if things will change. G.M.A.C.C. is approaching the problem from a holistic point of view. If we change the mindset of violence and retaliation of the inmates, that is how we seek to change. Bringing the number of beds down to a certain level at Rikers may not change things.
The Source: The conversation around gun violence has moved since the spate of school shootings. What are your thoughts on the shift in the conversation?
Shanduke McPhatter: Before this rash of school shootings we would go into schools already and work with the kids on conflict mediation. We feel most of the time it doesn’t happen in the urban community is because the schools have metal detectors, but the schools in white communities don’t. Kids know if I bring a gun to school I’m going to get caught at the door. So the beef happens outside of school in the urban community. G.M.A.C.C. helped create the E-Reponsder program with the Citizens Crime Commission and monitor conflicts on social media because that’s where a lot of problems take place. Social media was where problems manifested that ultimately led to my brother’s death.
The Source: There are a lot of videos on social media about students and teachers fighting with each other. What are your thoughts on relations between students and teachers these days?
Shanduke McPhatter: There is a lack of respect on both sides. What is the cause for the loss of respect? Once we understand the issues surrounding that question we can try and solve the problem. The question has to be asked about the level of training teachers are receiving when they are entering the schools. Teachers should be able to identify certain changes in their student’s behavior because that student might be going through something in their lives. When a student acts out every answer shouldn’t be get out and go to the principal’s office.
The Source: Do you think there is a demographic problem that’s affecting relations between teachers and students because of race or age?
Shanduke McPhatter: I think it’s a demographic issue and financial issue. Think about how much teachers make, their value to the school system is apparent to our kids. They have to fight against that. Kids see how much they can make outside of that and don’t really pursue that avenue. There is no incentive to keep our students in schools. We have to ask how we can orient our teachers differently and how we treat them shows we don’t value the job of the teacher.
The Source: How early do you start working with at risk youth?
Shanduke McPhatter: We work with kids as early as possible. If you do something with a child that child absorbs it. Especially in the world we are living in today pushed by social media. Think about how our young boys and girls are raised. If you look at a school playground you can tell who likes each other by looking at who play fights. That is systematic and it continues today. People can say some ages are too young, but these days there is no filter on social media.
The Source: As violence interrupters do you work with the New York Police Department?
Shanduke McPhatter: We do not. The NYPD does their job and we do ours which is preventing shootings, prevent retaliations and help families deal with the trauma of gun violence. We follow the Cure Violence model from Chicago, but what sets us apart in New York City is we have a wraparound model connected to services.
The Source: How can people support your organization?
Shanduke McPhatter: People can donate to us on our website if they can’t make it to the gala fundraiser. Community based organizations like ours need support. We have to fight for funding. I would say to those interested to identify a real grassroots organization and support them.
The Source: How is your family doing since it has been almost two years since your brother’s death?
Shanduke McPhatter: I had to move my mother and get her a place where she can get some mental peace. I have to constantly console my family and help them understand the situation. There are constant conversations on social media about it. We are planning to do a vigil on May 25th. So it’s something we are still dealing with. R.I.P. Ronald Edgar “Banga”McPhatter.