DES MOINES, Iowa — From an outsider’s perspective, the Cheatom Park Neighborhood is just home to the C-Block Gang. “You are probably going to see some fear,” said Terry Wells who lives in the neighborhood. For those like Wells who live in it, they also see something bright, like a flower ready to bloom. “This is a community that is ready to transform,” he said.
A recent FBI task force charged 15 individuals with drug charges, including three alleged leaders of C-Block. Wells says it is not enough, “Drugs, gangs and violence is nothing but a cancer. There’s a cure for it.”
The cure, he believes, can be found by strengthening the community’s future through the youth. Wells said, “When you look at the graduation rate and the suspension rate of minority students of color, there are systematic reasons that we need to address.”
Negus Imhotep works with those youth in the area as a Deferred Expulsion Manager with Des Moines Public Schools and through the non-profit Urban Dreams. He agrees with Wells and said, “If you drop out, what are you going to do? You can’t get a job. You are going to try the subterranean culture of dealing and distributing drugs. You are going to rob somebody. You gonna do something.”
Despite alleged C-Block leaders being behind bars, Imhotep believes that if the youth are not succeeding, someone else will step in where C-Block left off. “There`s still young folks coming up that have a similar mindset because I’m working in the schools and I see it,” said Imhotep.
Another remedy, the neighborhood holds a Cheatom Fest every year for the community. Wells says C-Block has always respected it and never interrupted it with violence. “We need to start taking back our public places, our school grounds, our churches, our parks and even some of our streets. Take them back and let folks know that this is our community. We are the ones that live, work, worship and play here,” he said.
While the suspects behind bars could plant a seed for the neighborhood’s future, where the community encourages the roots to attach may be much more important. “Frederick Douglass, he said ‘it was easier to develop a child than to repair broken men,” said Imhotep.
A 2018 graduation report from the Iowa Department of Education shows African Americans within the Des Moines Public School district graduate at a rate of 77 percent. Those numbers are well behind the 90 percent in West Des Moines and 87 percent in Johnston school districts.