From gang member to community leader

Dwight Whitaker II had been involved in a gang since he was 10 years old and found himself in jail for a crime he said he didn’t commit.

Then, on June 16, 2010, he said he found God, which would be the turning point for his life. The connection with his religion led him to his current work in the Durham community and with the men’s support group, The Men of Semper Fidelis.

Dwight Whitaker II has turned his life around and works to help others follow his path away from gang violence. (Staff photo by Mark Lihn)

Dwight Whitaker II has turned his life around and works to help others follow his path away from gang violence. (Staff photo by Mark Lihn)

“I started recognizing different things that God wanted me to do as far as being a role model to people that were in the same situation or predicament that he just brought me from,” Whitaker said.

He said he prayed about the decision, talked to his pastor and decided to join The Men of Semper Fidelis in 2012.

Tyrone Holmes, chief executive officer of The Men of Semper Fidelis, founded the organization in Sept. 2009. Holmes said the organization is meant to provide an outlet for men and a place where they could grow.

“We as men are taught at a very young age that we are supposed to be strong,” Holmes said. “We’re not supposed to cry and we’re supposed to handle our business. But people don’t realize we go through pain just like everyone else does.”

Men commit the majority of crimes in society because they bottle up their issues in order to protect their pride, Holmes said. He said his organization works to bring men together, teach them certain principles and allow them to release what is inside.

Whitaker said he came from an unstable household as a child, which drew him towards a gang life.

However, he said he has used the organization to keep him stable while learning to be a man and deal with his issues. Whitaker has become an executive director and performs community outreach on behalf of the organization.

“I, personally, reach out to guys in the streets or that come from a harsh background because I can relate to them,” Whitaker said. “They can see if there’s a way out for him, there is for me too.”

The Men of Semper Fidelis look for men from all backgrounds who are committed to bettering themselves and others, Whitaker said. The organization had about 25 members before beginning to hold meetings exclusively through social media, he said.

Holmes said they have a YouTube network where videos of the meetings are posted and they hold workshops for men to learn necessary skills, like etiquette and how to tie a tie. They also work to feed about 30 families a week in Durham and other parts of North Carolina, Holmes said.

Whitaker said the organization hopes to reopen its meetings to the public once it builds up its membership.

Durham County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs agreed that he was a good role model for the community because of the challenges he has overcome. Jacobs said she met Whitaker when he received a leadership award for a workforce development program in Durham.

Whitaker attended a statewide conference in Durham in September, The Triumphs and Challenges of North Carolina’s Emerging Adults, which Jacobs said showed his dedication to learn and educate. She said she has seen the impact of The Men of Semper Fidelis on him and has great hopes for his future.

“He’s very inspiring,” Jacobs said. “He has a very positive attitude. I think he has a lot of inner strength and resilience.”

After being released from jail, Whitaker said he earned his GED from the Achievement Academy of Durham. Jacobs said she is anxious for him to finish education and job training, something Whitaker said he hopes to achieve.

Holmes was similarly optimistic for Whitaker’s future, given his work with The Men of Semper Fidelis.

“His life has really changed around from being there,” Holmes said. “He’s very outspoken. I see a lot of potential in him.”

One thought on “From gang member to community leader

  1. I am very Proud of you Dwight Whitaker II, to say the least. Thank you for all you do within the community, Hope Church International and my Grandson. It’s been a true Joy to follow your Admiration since we have met. Continue to walk in your truth as Jehovah leads you and Thank You for being You. JRuth Alston

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