All across the country, young black men are gathered in groups wearing matching colors, throwing up signs with their hands, and using unique calls recognizable and exclusive to only their circles.
Most would assume that this group is a gang. However, stepping onto a college campus would confuse anybody trying to identify these groups, because Greek letter organizations share very similar customs.
The World Book Encyclopedia describes gangs to be a group of people who associate with one another for social or criminal reasons.
Elijah Bowdre, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. from Long Beach, Cali., said he has grown up around gangs and can see where some people would make the mistake in comparing them to a Greek letter organization.
“I always grew up with gangs around me,” said Bowdre,21, a senior finance student. “When I first came on campus I saw (a fraternity) with red jackets, and I thought they were Bloods.”
Bowdre admits to seeing similarities in the physical setup of the two groups, but he recognizes important differences in the purpose of each group.
“A gang’s purpose is to destroy other gangs and make money through crimes,” Bowdre said. “A Greek letter organization’s purpose is not committing crimes; the purpose is well documented to serve the community.”
Camron Hawkins, 18, a member of the Crips gang, does not agree.
“There are people who haven’t been in a gang who commit worse crimes than us,” said Hawkins, a Tallahassee native. “Its not always about violence, it’s about money.”
Hawkins considers gangs and fraternities to be one and the same, and even considers a family to be a gang.
Ironically, a lack of a family structure is what draws many people to join gangs in the first place.
Robert Corley, a former North Carolina Crip for 14 years, has left his former lifestyle to become a church laborer in Tallahassee.
“We get with our own kind of people to form gangs because we come from a broken family,” Corley said. “We find people that we can relate to, and we unify ourselves to become an army.”
According to sociologist Daniel J. Monti in the book “Gangs” by Gail B. Stewart the family structure provided by gangs helps to build young people the same way families, churches, schools and neighbors do.
However, Bowdre said he does not believe that sociologists can give expert opinions about things they have never experienced.
“While sociologists are at home reading their books, gang members are in the streets,” Bowdre said. “They probably don’t fully understand gang culture. You can’t only go off of an assumption.”
Although a family structure is provided to gang members, many question if it is worth the destruction that they cause the wider community. That question is not frequently asked of Greek letter organizations.
“You can’t put us on the same scale,” Bowdre said. “The net sum of productivity of gangs and fraternities are completely different.”
Elizabeth Hollifield, a psychology professor at FAMU, agrees.
“I don’t think gangs and fraternities can be compared, because gangs have a very negative connotation and fraternities don’t,” Hollifield said. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They are both fruits, but they have very different tastes.”