Angalia Bianca: Street Hero & Gang Violence Interrupter
Recovered from a life of crime, she puts her life on the line as a gang violence interrupter.
One February morning, Angalia Bianca was driving on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. She was all too familiar with the dangers of the dark side of the city. While stopped at a red light on California, she saw three shooters who began to shoot at a small crowd of young people who were gathered in front of a corner store.
She saw a teenage boy drop to the ground and knew that he was he was hit. As bullets were flying, she drove her car on the wrong side of the street and hopped out to run to the 15-year-old’s rescue to put pressure on his wound.
The gunfire hadn’t stopped yet, and she too could have easily been a victim, but she knew all too well what could happen if she didn’t risk it. She stayed with the young man until the paramedics came and thanks to her bravery, he survived. She was later awarded the Resolution for Bravery Award from the City of Chicago for saving the teen’s life and her efforts to interrupt gang violence in her hometown.
But, Bianca wasn’t always this way. Ten years ago, she was a heroin-addict, gang member, homeless, and career criminal. Bianca lived a life of crime and drugs for 36 years.Today, she is sober, reunited with her family, and does everything in her power to eliminate gang gun violence in Chicago. Bianca had worked for the anti-violence group CeaseFire/Cure Violence for over eight years. The organizations aim to reduce gun violence in the “Windy City” and surrounding areas through meaningful relationships, mediating ongoing conflicts, and working to prevent retaliations.
In her work, she talks to other gang members about her gritty life and how she made a complete turnaround, inspiring them to do the same. In her book, In Deep: How I Survived Gangs, Heroin, and Prison to Become a Chicago Violence Interrupter, she reveals a story of truth and vulnerability, and what it means to give all you have to make a change in your community. Her book has been nominated by the Chicago Writers Association for the 2019 book of the year for Traditional Non-fiction. The winner will be announced in the coming days!!
Growing up Hard
In Chicago, gangs overrun the city, making it the poster child of American gun violence. During Labor Day weekend alone, gang-related gun violence killed seven and wounded 34 people, according to U.S.A Today. Many gang members never live to tell their story, and truthfully, many members of society don’t want to hear it. But Bianca’s story of triumph is one for the books. Her life experiences filled her with indispensable wisdom to save the city she loves.
Bianca grew up in Oak Park, near Chicago’s west side. She had a charmed life growing up with her father, grandmother and younger sister Christina (Crickie). “It’s not that I didn’t have guidance, I had a very good family,” she says. “It was more about me wanting to do things my way and believing that I could.”
She started using drugs as a child. “At nine years old, I was doing things that some adults don’t do. I started taking pills to make me feel good.” The pattern of drug abuse continued, she dropped out of high school and started using heroin at 17. Her battle with addiction lasted for 36 years.
At 19, she joined a gang and became a career criminal dealing drugs, stealing, and embezzling. There were many bumps and bruises along the way, she was arrested several times and spent 12 years in prison. When she wasn’t living in a prison cell, she was sleeping on the streets. Her family disowned her, and she hadn’t seen her five children in over 16 years. In order to survive, she learned to hustle on the streets and ultimately became a career criminal. She lived in the ABLA CHA housing project on the west side of Chicago for over 25 years, where she got to see firsthand the effects of gang violence. “There would be bullets whizzing by every day,” she says. “Young people, innocent bystanders, dying every day.”
Loyalty is part of street code, and Bianca had street cred. The gang life made her lose focus, lose her family, and lose herself in the process. In 2011, she realized that her loyalty was misplaced when her father died while she was in prison. It still hurts her that she never got to say goodbye to him.
In August 2011, Bianca was released from prison into a recovery center called A Safe Haven in Chicago. Here, she learned life skills that helped her stay sober, accountable, and productive. Overcoming addiction isn’t easy, but Bianca says she is driven by a personal mission to help those struggling like she once did.
She’s started working for CeaseFire/CureViolence, as a violence interrupter 2011 just four months after her last stint in prison. She rose up the ranks to fromviolence interrupter tooutreach worker. In this role, she used her street knowledge to build up the community she once tore down. In June 2013, she was promoted to supervisor, and in October of the same year, she was promoted again to an implementation specialist and a national Cure Violence trainer, where she helped train other reformed gang members around the country empower their communities.
Today, Bianca wouldn’t dream of going back to the street life. She is loyal to improving herself, her family, and her community. She has been sober for nine years since May 8, 2010, hasn’t seen the inside of a jail cell in almost ten years, unless it’s when she goes back inside of the Illinois state prisons to speak with young people about to be released.
Bianca has been reunited with her children and family. “The people I meet, the lives I save is what keeps me going,” she says. “I know I’ve done wrong, but the passion and love I have for others and myself is what keeps me going.”
Every year Bianca hosts a fundraiser to provide Christmas gifts from Santa Claus to children living in homeless shelters and under bridges. She spends her entire Christmas Eve on the streets from 9 a.m. in the morning until past midnight going place to place giving out Christmas gifts to children. She never wants a child to get a gift from a church or an organization with the label “boy – 12 years old” or “girl – 9 years old”. So, right after Thanksgiving she goes out into the communities throughout Chicago and into the shelters and meets with the children to get their names and asks them to tell her three things that they would want from Santa. If she is able to raise enough money, she gets them all three things, wraps the gifts and puts their name on it from Santa Claus. Then she delivers them on Christmas Eve. Last year she was able to provide almost 300 children with Christmas gifts from Santa Claus.
This year, Bianca will graduate from Northeastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in inner city studies.