Gangster Turned Community Activist

“My life took a twist in a positive direction. Ever since, I committed to undo the wrong I did in society. Now I don’t have to worry about police knocking on the door, nobody aiming a gun at me. It’s called living stress free.” ~ Valentino ‘Scrooge’ Brown

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Valentino ‘Scrooge’ Brown

Former leader of the Border Boys

 

 

By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)

 

I found myself sitting in an unfinished portion of a modest house through Lewis Street. My interviewee:  a former gang leader.

Just the two of us.

He was schooled by the streets and well known to police. He was once leader of the Border Boys, a gang I heard about years ago, having grown up over the hill.

From I made contact with Valentino via telephone, I could detect sincerity in whom he has become. When we finally met in person, our conversation revealed that he undoubtedly has a checkered past. Yet through those eyes, I sensed a changed man. Admittedly, that didn’t stop me from having a bit of trepidation and while sitting there, silently praying, “Lord keep me in the name of Jesus.”

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Valentino outside his home.

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Where our interview took place. 

 

Heavily involved in the gang culture for 13 years, he survived being shot at 18 times by 18 different gangsters. Two of those times he was hit with shotgun pellets and lived to tell the tale.  Clearly, Valentino courted destruction and was a part of the criminal element that unleashed its fury on our streets. Today, he is a grassroots community activist and host of the weekly radio program, ‘Inside the Inner City,’ which airs on Guardian 96.9 FM every Friday, beginning at 6:30 pm.

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Photo Credit: Guardian Radio

 

As we chatted, I could see people passing through the double glass doors of what Valentino envisions becoming a Bahamian restaurant one day.

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The shell of a future Bahamian restaurant – a vision of Valentino.

 

Passing in the street was a little girl about nine, who used a walker as she hobbled on deformed legs – a birth defect she was reportedly born with.

She saw Valentino through the doors and decided to turn around, poked her head in and boldly interrupted our conversation asking, “Scroogee, what you doing?!?” No doubt, she was familiar with him and he put me on a back burner, stopping to chat with her. Trinity is her name.

I asked Trinity about her relationship with the man she affectionately called Scroogee. She immediately and confidently replied, “We are friends. We talk about business. He tells me I am smart and can create my own business.”

“I think he’s funny and sometimes he eats too much pepper food, and he’s serious about this restaurant,” she added with a huge smile and wide eyes.

That brief encounter with Trinity told me so much about Valentino. His relationship with the children of the community was confirmed later that day when he and I went on the Hay Street basketball court. Evidently, he is known and highly respected within those parts. It’s a far cry from the days gunfire and police sirens were the backdrop music of his life.

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Photo Credit: Royal Bahamas Police Force

 

I got quite a bit of information from Valentino about his past, simply because I needed to know who he was to have an appreciation for who he has become. This was once a cold man who had no reservations about the life he lived.

“I was violent,” he admitted, “I was a senior man in the area. I used to fight, stab, sell drugs. I never raped or did armed robbery; I hated those offences. I had access to everything: information, drugs, young people who would do anything for me. People I had a turf war with, I felt nothing,” he disclosed.

“My father was a criminal. My mother was a drug addict. My grandmother, Louise Brown, took care of me, but the streets grew me up. I had a hard-knock life,” he candidly shared.

Valentino’s road to change began when he was locked up in Central police station with someone who reportedly committed murder.

“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘You on the road carrying on dead bad. Let me give you a word of advice. Don’t end up like me. You see me? I finish. Aine no second chance for me. The cell is my home for the rest of my life,’” recalled Valentino.

“God put me in his cell…I saw the fear in him. He made me cry,” he confessed.

There was something different in that encounter. Valentino began to unmask his potential, although he confessed full change did not come immediately.

“My life took a twist in a positive direction. Ever since, I committed to undo the wrong I did in society. Now I don’t have to worry about police knocking on the door, nobody aiming a gun at me. It’s called living stress free,” he stated.

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Valentino says he now lives “stress free,” with no need to worry about the police knocking on his door.

 

In fact, his nickname Scrooge came about because people compared him to the fictional Christmas character Ebenezer Scrooge, who was cold-hearted but was eventually transformed.

“After all the pain I caused, I just needed something to motivate me. I was good at basketball and needed to find my way,” stated Valentino, who in 1987 began the Grants Town Basketball Tournament and was proudly wearing a blue shirt bearing the same name the day I interviewed him.

Valentino made a decision to not become a passive spectator. For a period, he turned a part of his house into a community outreach centre, actively engaging residents. He has also worked with the pastor of Salem Union Baptist Church, Reverend Heuter Rolle, making connections between the church and the people in surrounding neighbourhoods, in addition to working with community outreach centre, Lend A Hand.

“I talk to pastors, troubled young men. It has been very powerful,” said the father of a 12-year-old, who lives in the United States.

“I am trying to empower people. Police come after the fact. We need preventative measures,” he said.

And perhaps that is why Valentino takes time out with young people wherever he goes. We eventually hopped in my vehicle and took a short drive to the Hay Street basketball court.

There, we met 16-year-old Romeo, hanging out with his 15-year-old friend Lamar. They both spoke highly of Valentino.

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Valentino (centre) encourages teens Romeo (R) and Lamar (L)

 

“When we need shoes or anything, we can go to him. He is an inspiration. He motivates us and gives good advice,” said Lamar, a resident of Wilson Street.

Romeo added, “He is someone who makes us push harder. He gives us faith.”

Valentino believes Romeo, who lives on nearby Market Street, will make it to the big leagues.

“He has a lot of potential and doesn’t get himself in problems. That’s key. He also has good parents. He’s going to be a star basketball player,” said Valentino confidently.

 

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Valentino has been described as an “inspiration” to the young people in his community.

 

Valentino, who works side jobs landscaping and painting, admits he is often giving of himself in more ways than one.

“The little I have, I have to give away – from money to food,” he stated.

This was confirmed by eight-year-old Deidrick. As Valentino sat on a bench, Deidrick sat on a wall. They chatted and shared guineps.

“He is very loyal. He likes to give, and if we don’t have it, he gives it to us,” said the little boy.

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Valentino and eight-year-old Deidrick, chilling out on the Hay Street basketball court. The little boy described Valentino as, “loyal.”

 

Although Valentino hasn’t made it out of the gang life without being unscathed, he is proof that even the most entrenched gangster can be reformed. He channeled a vicious past into community activism, choosing to be deeply connected with the young people and steering them in a positive direction.

From once putting a stranglehold on people through a life riddled with bullets to now giving back to them, I knew without a doubt as I departed that I had been in the company of someone who – like the character Scrooge – made a 180 degree change.

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