Black men and women caught up in gang violence need economic empowerment to break the cycle, a former gang member who now has a multimillion-dollar business said Saturday.

“It’s very obvious that our young black men and women are in trouble,” said Kenneth Rushing, president and CEO of House Hustling Enterprises Inc. and Rehabber’s Super Store Inc., a corporation that educates African-Americans on how to turn their lives around.

“Dr. Martin Luther King had the civil rights protocol through the ’60s and civil rights movement. Malcolm X had the ‘by any means necessary’ protocol for that era as well. Today, we need an economic protocol.”

house-hustlingRushing — whose corporation helps black ex-convicts, drug dealers and gang members to learn how to turn their lives around by using their street savvy — was one of three ex-gang members who spoke on the Essence Music Festival empowerment seminar panel that addressed ending violence in the black community.

He turned his own life around while serving seven years in prison for selling drugs. When he was released in 2000, he had accredited learning certificates in businesses ranging from real estate investing to finance.

Rushing immediately began rehabilitating houses and three years later he developed a multimillion-dollar company in Florida. The young men he works with earn from $10,000 to $70,000 a month.

He said black men think they have to be a rapper, athlete or drug dealer to succeed, but his group is changing that notion.

“The money is not in buying and selling dope in the ‘hood,” Rushing said. “The money is in buying and selling houses in the ‘hood.”

Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, a professor of public health practice and associate dean for faculty development at Harvard School of Public Health, said girls now are getting caught up in violence.

“We have been marketing violence to boys for centuries. … For about two decades, and we call it the feminization of the super hero, we have been marketing violence to girls. Girls are being arrested more than ever before. Arrested for violent crime more than ever before,” she said.

Before the panel discussion, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told the crowd to pressure elected officials to provide better education, jobs and housing for children as alternatives to gangs and violence. She said the government isn’t doing enough, so the community needs to address the issue.

“These young folks have been dropped off the American agenda,” she said. “Democrats are not doing enough and certainly the Republican Party isn’t doing anything.”

Earlier in the day, activist and author Angela Davis addressed another issue affecting African-Americans — incarceration.

“As many of you know there has been a conversation under way in this country for sometime about the reliance on imprisonment as a way to sweep social problems under the rug,” Davis said.

Davis, 66, said the country is using incarceration as the primary form of punishment. She said it’s not working because it doesn’t rehabilitate prisoners or prepare them for successful reintegration into society. She said the nation is building prisons at an alarming rate.

“Why should we assume that imprisonment is the best form of punishment for everybody who has committed a violent crime?” she asked.

Making an appeal for a more wide-ranging justice system, Davis said prisons operate misguidedly under the mentality of “if you do the crime, you serve the time.”

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