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Criminal justice professors are taking aim at drug and gang-related activity in North Carolina. A group from North Carolina Central University said it’s an issue that continues to drive violent crime in our communities.

“I was involved in a gang because I was looking for a family. I was a part of a very abusive relationship and I was only 12-years-old,” said Jakayla Hart, a youth ambassador for “Campaign 4 Change.”

These words are far too common in the world of crime.

“I never wanted to be a drug dealer, but it seemed like something I had to do to survive,” said Stephen Barrington, program director for “Campaign 4 Change.”

Some turn to criminal activity as a means of comfort, protection, a sense of belonging.

“Both gang activity and drug activity are both problems here in North Carolina, typically because the two go hand in hand,” said Dr. Michaux Parker, Professor of Criminal Justice at NCCU.

Parker says it’s no surprise to see a pairing of drugs and gangs.

“For the most part when you’re looking at large scale drug trafficking or distribution or selling operations. You can’t do that kind of thing by yourself. You have to have a criminal organization to facilitate those kind of things,” said Parker.

Parker’s research shows in two rural areas of North Carolina, the need for excitement was the main reason for gang involvement for about 70 percent of gang members, whereas the need for money and belongings was around 40 percent.

His research also shows, most kids who go down the path of related activity are between 10- and 12-years-old, an age of vulnerability.

“When you’re at that age you have yet to create a concrete sense of who you are, so it’s easy for somebody to come in and tell you who you are and tell you who you’re going to be,” said Hart.

However, times have since changed for Jakayla.

“The first part of the change was a change in environment,” said Hart.

Now, only five years later, she has college scholarships on the horizon and dedicates her time encouraging other kids to overcome the same challenges she faced.

“Take advantage of every opportunity. Take every moment and do something with it,” Hart said.

Parker also says the best way for someone to get out of a gang is to steer away from gang related culture as well.