Jennifer Blake is a great example of how the message of Easter – accepting the truth of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection – transforms lives. This former gang leader heads a charity providing help and support for young people. She also won the Life Turnaround Award at last year’s Wise Women Awards. She shares her story with Keep The Faith.
Jennifer Blake is one person who can testify about God’s ability to change hearts and minds for the better.
A former leader of a gang (posse), Jennifer, a mother of two, is now a Christian and runs Safe’N’Sound, a Peckham-based youth project she founded in 2004.
Safe’N’Sound supports young people wanting to leave the gang lifestyle; youth experiencing problems with their parents, and vice versa; runs a music and dance project; provides youth mentoring and counselling, as well as alerts young people to their great potential. People are either self-referred to the project or hear about it through various social agencies. It helps over 500 young people a year.
Jennifer recently launched a fundraising drive to raise £1 million. Monies raised will finance the building of new premises, from which Safe’N’Sound will run courses, provide apprenticeships and have a music studio. She also stood for election as a Liberal-Democrat councillor in the recent local elections.
Jennifer is not the kind of person you’d expect to become a gang leader. A Peckham native, she was raised by loving Christian parents, along with her four sisters, and attended The Tabernacle in Lewisham, south London, where she was part of the Sunday school and sang in the children’s choir.
To all intents and purposes, Jennifer was a well-behaved young girl until she started secondary school. She recalled, “From secondary school, I started to see different things. After school, you could hang out with your friends and it was all of that. I wanted to do more than just finish school, go home and do homework. I started rebelling against my mum and dad’s rules and regulations.”
Not only did Jennifer start hanging out with new friends, she ran away from home at 13. She lived in different children’s homes, having her first child at 17, and left care when she was 18.
Whilst in care, Jennifer was leader of a posse (as gangs were previously called), and she continued in that role until she got saved, all the while being employed in good jobs. She recalled, “I would be in control of certain people doing certain things. It was a money thing.” Jennifer’s posse was involved in muggings, chequebook and card fraud, robberies and drugs. Reflecting on her former life, Jennifer saw it as ‘fun and exciting’, but it had its pitfalls, which took her to some very dark places.
When things started going wrong in her life, and in that of her son, who was also a gang member, Jennifer started reflecting on her life. Of her son she shared, “I did everything to stop him. I didn’t want him in it, because I knew what it was like. I reaped 10 times more than what I gave my mother.”
She also began experiencing demonic attacks; was fed up of having to wear different masks to suit the various people she met, and she became a victim of violence herself. She recalled, “By 2004, my lifestyle was too much. I’d been kidnapped, tortured, raped and abused. I’d gone through so much. I put my families’ lives in danger because of certain people I was moving with. I just thought I can’t take it anymore and, as bad as I was, I was suicidal but I wouldn’t commit suicide. I would do things to provoke people that maybe they might end my life for me, rather than me take my own life.”
Jennifer made a decision to dedicate her life to God totally on Sunday, April 25, 2004. She went to church that day and, when the preacher made an altar call, she walked down the church aisle to pray and get baptised. Her life turnaround was total. “The same zeal I had to do badness is the same zeal I have to serve God.”
In fact, during her time as a gang leader, her family and her church never stopped praying for her.
She is now fully committed to serving God, the community and young people. She was even out on streets during the riots, trying to encourage people to go home. “The amount of demons that were in the young people that passed me, it was evil out there.”
Jennifer is keen for churches to play a bigger role in combatting youth disaffection. “The thing that hurts me with churches is that they are playing businesses, and they need to move away from that. We’ve got a mission out here. Whilst we’re playing business and church, our community is being torn down.
“At the end of the day, as children of God, we know the Spirit that is within us. We know whom we represent, we know the power that we have, and we sit back too much and play church. We need to get out into our community, and show the community whom we serve.”
Amen to that.
For more information, visit www.elscuk.com or phone 020 7358 8566
(This interview was first published in Keep The Faith in October 2011.)