Sharif Willis was Chief Minister of Justice for the Conservative Vice Lords and also worked with United for Peace in Minneapolis when this interview appeared. Jim Wallis interviewed him after the Gang Summit.
- The Editors
Jim Wallis: Share a bit about your background, your role with the Vice Lords, and how you got involved with United for Peace and this movement to end the violence.
Sharif Willis: I've been a Vice Lord for more than 25 years. My initial involvement was in the '60s and early '70s in Chicago when the Vice Lords had a cultural center, a program for planting grass and painting alleys, and were involved with community programs for teen-age mothers and school kids.
Then the influx of drugs began, and to acquire the substances, a criminology came about. We had all these young dope fiends, and the community had never seen this happen. It took about 15 years for the brothers to regain the consciousness of the '60s and start something constructive. What brought that about was the influx of crack. This epidemic came and we saw the same thing happening to the young brothers and sisters as happened to us. Individuals began saying, "We may be able to make a difference."
In March 1992, I got out of the institution [jail] and started to impress upon the leaders on the streets that we had to be the ones to stop the violence because we are the ones governing these gangs. After a lot of debate and arguing, several of them--Vice Lords, Bloods, Souls, and Disciples--came to the table. And that turned into United for Peace.
A couple days after having announced it, we had our first challenge when a black man shot a young boy, and people were outraged. The police called upon United for Peace, who they supported, and we were able to bring some calm to the situation.