WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Hope can seem to be lost in some Wilmington neighborhoods riddled by bullets and haunted by gang activity. It’s in these dark, dismal places that you'll find Rev. James Jamison.
"If we don't give them hope, they're gonna take ours," Jamison said.
Jamison is no stranger to violence and the projects. He grew up in the infamous Southfield Village in Stamford, Connecticut, one of the city's most troubled public housing projects.
"There were murders and things. I ran with a gang called the Black Establishment. I dealt drugs all over the city. I was a war lord,” Rev. James said.
He recalls a time when his drug dealer friends asked him what to do about a guy who had robbed them.
"They said, ‘come on man what we are we gonna do Junior?' I started to weep. I said, ‘man you've gotta kill him.’"
Now at 60 years old, it's a decision that to this day stirs his emotions.
But Jamison’s gang days would eventually come to an end. By his late twenties, after joining the Air Force and losing his wife to divorce, Jamison joined a church, came to know God and decided his life would head in a new direction.
"I said I’m not going to go out like that so I decided to myself I refuse to die in the streets like a bum,” Jamison said. “I refuse to die by drugs. I refuse to die from alcohol."
He started with earning his GED, then his bachelor's at UNCW, and finally he earned a PhD in Seminary. Now as the pastor of Hope Baptist, Rev. Jamison spearheads many community initiatives, like “Boots on the Ground,” to end violence in the Wilmington community and encourage young people to avoid gang life.
"They're trapped. It may not look like a fence around them but there is a mental fence that keeps them trapped in the projects and you see generation after generation after generation growing up in the projects because nobody showed them how to escape,” Jamison said.
Despite his personal accomplishments, the reverend says they mean nothing if he can't get the young people off the streets.
"I can't feel success until these babies get the chance that I had,” Jamison said.