We’re seeing an average of about 12 shot spotter alerts per week in Peoria so far this year.
That’s roughly 12 times a family is wondering if they’re safe; 12 times a person’s life could be in danger, but former gang member and community activist Chris McAfee is pledging to do his part to ensure that number doesn’t rise.
If you check the stats, 7 out of Peoria’s 10 homicide victims are under 25. Let that sink in for a moment, just how much life those young men and women still had to live.
McAfee spent 20 years of his life his adult life behind bars, but vows to make his freedom, an example of why the violence isn’t worth it.
Standing at the same intersection where Peoria’s most recent homicide victim was shot to death, McAfee recalled his own bouts with gang life.
"Stealing, hustling, doing drugs, gun play…yeah I did a little bit of everything." he said boldly. As he described his descent into a wayward lifestyle, one thing he made sure to highlight was his upbringing.
Despite popular misconceptions McAfee explained, he, like many other young men who start playing on the wrong side of the tracks, came from a great family.
With a smile he described being raised by a strong, single, mother who worked hard each day to provide for him. Still however, he was searching for something different…brotherhood.
He began breaking down another misconception, not all men who join gangs are doing it for fun or to be cool. Many are searching for a sense of belonging. McAfee made no excuses when describing the reality that some may perceive as a phenomon,"They make you feel like that’s family…they got ya back. That’s how I felt." he explained openly.
That deep connection to other young men whom he could identify with, ultimately cost him a basketball scholarship, which is part of the reason he understands today’s teens.
"They don’t fear anyone anymore. A lot of time the mentality that this generation has is, ‘F the consequences’…until they get caught." he outlined.
A life of crime right out of high school, quickly stole Chris’s youth – something he doesn’t want for his community. "You go to prison and lemme tell you, it’s not a playground. They take all your rights. It’s terrible." McAfee admitted.
Detailing the graphic nature of constant fights and isolation, he highlighted the lack of control inmates have, that can often drive them to make additional life changing decisions, in jail.
After serving not one, but two sentences, the first for nine years and the second, for eleven.. McAfee had missed a significant portion of his daughter’s upbringing, holidays with family and countless opportunities.
"When you get that felony on your back, and you come out and you wanna get a job…it’s hard."
Decades behind bars however forced a change and he vowed to turn his life around when he got out, starting with school.
McAfee attended ICC and then Lincoln Christian, proving that if you put your mind to something, despite the odds stacked against you…anything is possible.
He credits his mentor Agbara Bryson, a pillar in the Peoria community, known best for the ‘New Millenium Instititute’ that works with at risk youth in career development, as part of the reason he was able to stay focused on changing his life.
Now McAfee travels the city, sharing his story with anyone who will listen, explaining as earnestly as possible, a life in the streets isn’t all its made out to be.
He hopes it’ll save a life.
He shares that by no means was his journey easy, but he says it was absolutely worth it, encouraging anyone who needs an extra push to get on the right track, to contact him at 309.339.7180.