Brian King models what it means to make a holistic change in the community. As a founder and Director of Fresno EOC Street Saints, his commitment to families and youth in West Fresno made a lasting impact on its residents. King is retiring from his role with Street Saints after being the program’s leader since 2001.
“We started Street Saints with after-school programs,” King said. “We knew at that particular time there was a heavy amount of gang recruiting, but that’s when we decided to recruit kids ourselves to our gang, Street Saints.”
Street Saints began when King and seven local pastors made a 20-year commitment to rebuilding their community in West Fresno. Starting the program with money from their own pockets, these men opened their doors to children after school. Through time, attention, and planning – “The Fresno Street Saints” was created in 2002. In 2014, Fresno Street Saints joined Fresno EOC as one of its programs.
King has been instrumental in making Street Saints what it is today. As a former gang member and once one of Chicago’s largest drug dealers, he brought his experience from the streets and upbringing in poverty to give back positively.
“After 28 years, I knew I had to do something to make it right,” King said. “It was devastating what we did for communities of color; I wanted to go back and show them what we should be modeling.”
Through his triumphs, King received several awards: 1997 NAACP Image Award, 2009 California Peace Prize Award, and 2005 31st Assembly District African American Heritage Award. He also served as a member of Fresno’s Police Reform Commission and California’s statewide Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force responsible for the End Childhood Poverty Plan.
Since the start, Street Saints and its community partners have developed programs for youth to build resiliency, promoting healthy choices in education, social situations, family, and employment. Street Saints also offers programs for young adults designed to empower and train area residents to become community leaders. The program has also been recognized nationally for the success of their after-school program.
Partnering with Fresno Unified School District to mentor students at Gaston Middle School was another turning point for Street Saints and King. In 2014, Gaston was built on gang territory known as ‘the U.’ From the first year Gaston opened, the Street Saints worked to build positive relationships and a safe environment for students and their families.
“We knew certain kids wouldn’t be able to go there because of the gangs, but I think we made it a safe haven; it’s become a neutral spot,” King said.
King mentions that he has received many kind messages from people throughout Fresno and nationwide since making his retirement announcement. “We are now at a point where we can look back and be proud of the thousands of families we’ve worked with. Now, we are leaving Street Saints in good hands, with people who understand what we do and help us fight poverty. We are almost 20 years, and I hope to see this program continue for another 20.”
Nicole Hutchings and Joby Jones will now lead street Saints. Both began with volunteers at Street Saints. Eventually, they were both hired as staff and have continued mentoring youth and families in West Fresno to fulfill their potential.
Jones has his own inspiring story he brings with him to his work with local youth. Formerly a gang member, he was shot eight times and had to relearn how to walk partially paralyzed. This instance and the murder of his little brother inspired Jones to leave his previous lifestyle and help others do the same.
Years ago, King found Jones playing football at a park. Jones kept his cousins involved with healthy activities to avoiding being involved with gangs. King recognized Jones had this positivity. He remembers saying, “we want him on the Street Saints team, to be that role model for our whole community.”
King has wonderful memories he will take with him from his work in the community. Most of all, he watched this program build up families, change lives, build up people’s leadership skills, and watched those individuals see their potential as leaders.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more work in rural apartment complexes and local school districts. I’m also looking forward to seeing how we continue to train people in those communities to be poverty fighters,” King said. “With Street Saints, we are always finding the local ‘Jobys’ and people like him who are already in the community, because that’s what reinvestment means.”
King looks fondly on all the memories he has had with Street Saints and the people he has met along the way and the lives he has touched. Click to learn more about Street Saints.