“Gang Girl: The Story of a 22-Year-Old Girl in the LA Bloods Gang,” is a work of art in the form of a documentary that I had heard about and now I’m glad that I have the opportunity to see it, thanks to the San Diego Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists. They’re bringing it to town so that all who care can spend an evening exploring critical issues and strengths in the lives of inner-city youth and their families.
The film tells the story of Nafeesa Toney and her family, including her mother, Valerie Goodloe, an LA based photojournalist for a national magazine who had no idea that her daughter was involved with gangs until she began researching a story as part of her work about girls and gang affiliations. Is that not frightening? Nafeesa was raised in a middle-class Muslim home in LA. The documentary shares the challenges that she, her sister, Lateefah, and other family members face, including sexual identity, spirituality, and growing up an African American female in urban LA.
It’s a significant story in that Valerie Goodloe, like so many of us who have found success, got the feeling that she had it made.
And why not? She’s a recovering addict who has been sober for 25 years and was confident that her children would grow up to be well-rounded, socially-responsible human beings. That dream, however, as one could well imagine, became a nightmare when she discovered that her daughter had joined the Bloods, a notorious Los Angeles gang. After many sleepless nights and court appearances with her daughter, she determined that not only did she need answers to help explain how she found herself on this path with Nafeesa, but also that she would take it upon herself to increase awareness about the huge numbers of girls and women involved in the gang lifestyle.
Goodloe hopes she will shed important light on this growing problem, which has gone virtually unnoticed by the mass media. The documentary examines the reasons why girls from all walks of life and every socio-economic background are joining gangs. She’s on a mission to sound a very serious alarm: These girls and women are the next generation of mothers and grandmothers. If they continue to pursue the gang lifestyle, their destructive behavior will impact future generations.
Although Gang Girl is one woman’s journey, it illuminates the universal themes of belonging, hopelessness and how the negative societal impact of gang activity affects us all. Goodloe hopes that others, especially communities impacted by gangs, bullying and issues of belonging, will recognize the vital importance of her message.
And the message is powerful, indeed. Goodloe’s camera penetrates the parties and the meetings and the drug induced states and reaches the heart of the hood lifestyle. This was crucial for her to do in order to understand her daughter’s mindset, which is complicated, compounded with her LGBT sexual persuasion, also an issue. In the film we see Valerie trying various modalities to let her daughter experience life outside of her gang clique. She loves Nafeesa but so do the gang members. How can a mother’s tough love win over unconditional love that excuses all behavior and makes no apologies? That’s quite a question isn’t it?
The showing of “Gang Girl” will be preceeded at 5 pm with the audience having the opportunity to explore “A Time of Terror: A Time of Civil Rights,” an interactive exhibit that examines historical issues that contribute to why gangs are attractive to youth.
After the show there will be a Q&A session and community discussion moderated by Starla Lewis, Mesa College professor, with Valerie Goodloe and her daughters. This is a wonderful opportunity for youth, parents and San Diegans at-large to examine the issues that this family has struggled through; this is an opportunity for us all to take an active role in solving community problems. Hope to see you there.