Portrait of Shanduke McPhatter, founder and chief executive officer of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc., on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 in Brooklyn , N.Y. (James Keivom / New York Daily News)(Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Portrait of Shanduke McPhatter, founder and chief executive officer of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc

An inspiring example can be an agent of change. Take Shanduke McPhatter, a former inmate on weapons and robbery convictions who has spent the last five years trying to curtail gun violence in his native Brooklyn.

After serving 13 years in various New York prisons, the 39-year-old former Bloods gang member turned his life around, and today, serves as the executive director of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, a nonprofit organization focusing on minimizing gun violence by helping local youth.

“My strongest weapon in this fight is me,” McPhatter explains to PEOPLE. “What can these kids [who idolize the gang lifestyle] say when I am showing them that it is possible to change? What can they say when we take one of their peers, someone who we have helped and who is doing things differently in their life, who has employment, who is not hiding out in the corners anymore, and we show them even their own peers are doing it? That’s what keeps them motivated.”

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