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Rappers' Program Sends Anti-Gang Message



October 17, 2008

The two rappers from Boston who took the stage Thursday evening at the Learning Corridor in Hartford focused on drugs and violence. But unlike mainstream hip-hop, they didn't glamorize the thug lifestyle, they warned against it.

Through short films and music Antonio Ennis and Edward Anderson, members of 4Peace, portray the realities of crime. The program, sponsored by the U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut, was presented to students, and police and school officials, from various parts of the state.

"It was interesting. It taught me never to join gangs and not to carry firearms. You can get 15 years in prison," 11-year-old Lawrence Holloway said after watching "Mandatory Sentence." He was at the event with the Hartford Neighborhood Center, an after-school program.

In "Mandatory Sentence," a short film produced by 4Peace and the U.S. probation office in Massachusetts, a 19-year-old named Terrell Walker gets caught with a gun. He faces a year and a half in state prison until a federal prosecutor looks at at his criminal history, takes over the case and puts Walker in federal prison for 15 years.

"I like the movie because it was educational, and some of my family did go to jail, my father. I miss him so much," said Victor Bailey, 11.

Thursday's daylong event began in the afternoon with an audience of adults and a panel of prosecutors and police officials who talked about Project Safe Neighborhoods and anti-gang initiatives.

"The key is collaboration. The success of our programs is partnership with our schools," Waterbury Police Chief Neil O'Leary said.

But Ennis and Anderson owned the stage.

"A lot of time, the kids don't know what the beef is about. Your enemy can sometimes become your best friend. You just gotta get to know that person," Ennis said.

The statement could describe the rappers' own relationship. They were once enemies — long ago when they rapped in different crews that were rivals for reasons unknown. Ennis, who is in his late 30s, left the lifestyle after surviving a stabbing in 2000.

Ennis said he and Anderson came together in 2006 after a friend was killed.

"It was only obvious that if we put our differences aside, we could make inspirational music, and that's what happened," Ennis said.

Ennis is also known for the controversial "Stop Snitching" novelty T-shirts produced by his urban clothing company in Boston. He replaced the controversial attire in 2006 with "Start Peace" T-shirts.

"I said to myself, 'I got all this publicity for something negative. Let's see if they support me for doing something positive,'" he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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