Ulysses “U.S.” Floyd was 14 years old when he decided to run with one of Chicago’s most infamous street gangs. It was 1965. “My mother died when I was 11 years old, and my father was a workaholic. I’d barely ever see him,” Floyd said. “I did it for the camaraderie, friendship, family. And, besides, all of my friends were in a gang already.”
Like Floyd, many men and women who join street gangs at an early age find themselves feeling like small fish swimming in deep, shark-infested waters. Once they take the bait—usually the money, fancy clothes and flashy cars that gang leaders have—they are hooked and stuck for years.
“I stayed in it much too long,” said Floyd, 53, who started his own gang. “You just can’t walk away from the gangs, especially when you end up in a leadership position.”
“Even if you got tired and wanted to get out, anybody—including your best friend—might whack you,” he added. “I had to think about more than just me. I had to think about my family and my friends.”
But he changed his thoughts. While serving prison time on drug charges in 1994, Floyd had a vision of himself “working on doing positive things.” He realized that he wanted to start building his community instead of tearing it down. In nearly 30 years “in the game,” he’d started his own gang, overseen drug operations and survived years of violent scraps with opposing gangs.
Floyd realized he was getting older. The youngest of his six children, Ulysses Jr., had just been born, and Floyd wanted his kids to look up to him. So, after his release in 1997, while in his mid-40s, he left his gang. Having paid his dues, Floyd didn’t encounter any resistance from other gang leaders, he said.
He enrolled at Olive-Harvey College on the city’s far South Side, graduating in 2000 with a real estate license and an associate’s degree.
In 2003, Floyd helped start the Lilydale Outreach Workers, a community group that works with youth and seniors in the South Side neighborhood between 91st and 99th streets about five blocks west of the Dan Ryan Expressway. He said the group sponsors outings for children in the neighborhood—which includes the Lowden Homes, a public housing development where he once lived—like trips to Chicago White Sox games and the “My Daddy Can Cook Better Than Your Daddy Barbeque” held on Fathers’ Day.
“We’re trying to send them places, reward them for doing good in school, show them things outside the community and be mentors, so they do not have to take the road I took,” he said.
Floyd talked with the Residents’ Journal and The Chicago Reporter about his life in street gangs and why he decided to give it up.
How did you get into a gang?
I met Jeff Fort, known as ‘Angel,’ and Eugene Harrison, known as ‘Bull.’ They were the leaders of the Black Stone Rangers. I was hard-headed at the age of 14. I kept following the older guys. They had money, and I wanted some, too. We used to meet every Tuesday after school. We had to pay $2 in dues. I had to give them my lunch money or add up the small change that I got from family and friends to pay my dues.
Fort wasn’t the leader at that time. Harrison was the leader, but Fort did most of the talking at the meetings. Behind them on the stage were 21 chairs with 21 high-ranking members known as the ‘Main 21.’ Fort told us that the dues were going toward buying guns and bullets to protect our neighborhood against the Disciples; that was David Barksdale’s gang. Fort and Harrison extended the meeting to twice a week, every Tuesday and every Saturday, and each time we had to pay dues. It was hard enough trying to pay dues once a week. Now it was $4 a week.
Over a thousand guys were now involved with Fort. [They] had us marching around the community to show our strength.
What did the street gang do?
There were Jewish and Arab businesses in our community, so we extorted money from the stores. If they wanted to continue to do business in our community, they had to pay protection fees. As foot soldiers, we never got to keep any of that money. Only the ones such as the elite did.
I tell you what [the store owners] did for us: Every Friday night, we were told to go behind all the stores on Stony Island Avenue from 67th Street to 71st Street. Behind the stores there were boxes of food, new clothes and other new things that we could split between us.
From 1967 to 1968, there was a big wide void when the older guys on 95th Street went off to the Vietnam War, or started doing their own things. So, at the age of 18, I started my own gang. That’s when I became a chief. I used all that I learned from Jeff Fort and Eugene Harrison and applied it to my gang.
How did drugs get introduced to your gang?
We saw a drug dealer by the name of Brick who was making a lot of money in our community. We extorted money from him and made him pay us to continue to serve in the community. Brick ran to Larry Hoover, who was the head of the [Black] Gangster [Disciples] Nation at that time, trying to get him to stop us from extorting from him.
Hoover called me into a meeting and asked me to stop extorting from Brick. At that time, I told him, ‘Okay.’ But, as soon as I got back to 95th Street, we were back on Brick’s case.
Hoover was mad for a little while, but later he said, ‘That’s just Ulysses.’ We saw all the money Brick was making from selling dope, so we decided to just get rid of him and make that money instead.
Many times my life was threatened. Brick had the police grab me from in front of my father’s house. They made me lay down on the floor of their car at gunpoint. Two white detectives took me to Brick’s house. Brick came to the car. I could see his face. He said, ‘Whack him!’ I thought that my life was over.
They took me to the [Dan Ryan Woods] forest preserve on 87th and Western and said, ‘We ought to kill you, nigger. You better leave Brick alone.’ One of the detectives put a gun to my head. After they threatened me for a little while … they let me go.
It made me come on to Brick even harder. We were successful in uprooting him from the community. And that’s when we started selling drugs.
Brick tried one more time to kill me. I was standing in the middle of 95th Street, and a guy opened the side door of a catering truck [that Brick was driving] and let off five or six rounds, but he missed me. I fell to the ground face first. After the shots were over, I just lay there. I thought I was hit. People from the Lowden Homes projects came running and gathering around, asking me, ‘Chief, are you all right? Are you hit?’
Do you miss that type of life?
No. I will tell any young person: ‘Don’t get involved in gangs.’ I was in too deep.
It’s different when the federal government comes in. They have taken the gloves off. It is an all-out war. It’s not an easy game anymore. The government got Larry Hoover. They got Jeff Fort. And they made me see how serious it was. There’s no more love, life and loyalty in gangs anymore. Your best friend will turn state’s evidence on you. Nobody wants to do 20 years for you.
But, now, instead of taking from the community, I want to give back. That’s why when I start something it is something positive that will not harm my people only enhance their lives.
I did a lot of negative things in the past. The road that I took when I was younger was not the right path. I scarred a lot of people. I hurt a lot of people. I never want to do that again. Today, I will tell the young people to stay in school and stop the killing, and start the healing. A message to the youth: If you must get in too deep, make it in your books.
Tags: august september 2004 issue, Black Stone Rangers, Chicago, gang activity, leadership, personal story, street gangs, Ulysses "U.S." Floyd
Categories: Investigative Reporting Uncategorized