Former Rapid City Gangster Gives Back
Erik Bringswhite grew up in Rapid City and spent nearly twenty of his early years in a gang where alcohol, drugs, violence, and weapons were commonplace. He ended up serving time in federal prison. While in the “hole” he says he realized he was destined to do better.
Since being released Bringswhite says he is now helping the community he once raged against by sharing his past experiences and the grim realities of gang life to help combat illiteracy, incarceration, and premature death of South Dakota youth.
Erik Bringswhite was a gang member in Rapid City in the 80’s and 90’s, and, after frequent run-ins with the law, ended up doing federal prison time.
Reflecting on his life while in prison, he says he knew he could do better.
Since his release, Bringswhite has obtained degrees in social work and Native American studies - focusing on chemical dependency.
He’s sharing what he’s learned with at-risk youth in South Dakota to give them hope, keep them out of gangs, and out of trouble.
“We stand against pre-mature death, incarceration, and illiteracy. That’s the big things that we see ourselves working to decrease,” says Bringswhite.
Bringswhite is taking a grassroots approach to reaching out to young people, promoting basic things like education and exercise, and he says it’s working.
“So some of the things that I’m doing with my wife and a few other supporters is we had the back-to-school backpack give-away. We gave away I think 500 backpacks in less than an hour right at the College Park – north side of Rapid City,” says Bringswhite.
Bringswhite says some supplies were donated but most were paid for with his own money. He says he also held a winter coat and school supplies giveaway where any young person in need was welcome.
“We could work on making our community better for everybody, without focusing on race, ethnicity, or whatever else is out there that divides us,” says Bringswhite.
In addition to public speaking and community-driven events Bringswhite uses social media to reach out - encouraging dialogue and relationships between those he sees as poverty stricken or marginalized and city leaders - so that young people are playing an active part in their own futures.