Members and supporters of the Black Disciple Nation (BD), sometimes referred to as Black Disciples, recently gathered to celebrate the 66th birthday of its founder, David Barksdale at the Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation located in Bronzeville on Chicago's South Side. Barksdale, affectionately known as “King Dave,” is a controvocial figure who many identify as an influential leader associated with developing some of the most vicious Black street gangs in Chicago, while his original followers view him as a visionary who taught them about life, self preservation, and community development.

Many persons may be surprised to know that many of the BD members feel that if Barksdale (who died at age 27 in 1974), were still alive today, the extreme violence which has plagued Chicago's streets since the 1980s would not have existed. Today, original BD members, headed by co-founder Dirk Acklin (Don Dirk), are increasing their efforts to make an aspect of King Dave's vision that may not be apparent to the public, become a reality: more peaceful neighborhoods across Chicago.

According to Don Dirk, co-founder of the Black Disciple Nation, the organization emerged from David Barksdale's efforts to unite Black people across Chicago to serve the needs of the most vulnerable in their community through security, encouraging education, good parenting, protection of children and the elderly, feeding needy families, and having a better quality of life. “Other such groups were formed and referred to themselves as organizations while we were commonly referred to by the police, media, and others, as street gangs,” said Dirk.

However, starting as early as the 1970s, members of those various street organizations that included Black Gangsters (BGs); Gangster Disciples (GDs); Black Disciples (BDs), Vice Lords, Black Stone Rangers and several others, fought wars against each other over various types of street business activities and personal conflicts. Several members of those organizations served lengthy prison sentences as a result of those conflicts and activities. “Many were killed from various organizations, and many were imprisoned for the retaliation of those murders,” Don Dirk confirms.

In 1994, the BDs received worldwide attention for the high profile killing of 11-year-old Robert Sandifer, better known as "Yummy." Yummy was said to be executed by fellow BDs as a form of a sacrifice to avoid an all out war against the group in retaliation after he shot and killed 14-year-old Shavon Dean, who was the close relative of a high ranking rival gang leader. 

Today, members of the Black Diciples are also said to be involved as both victims and perpetrators of murders in Chicago, mainly as ongoing retaliations, ”Such as the Lil Jo Jo murder that BDs are being investigated for,” said Don Dirk.

In spite of this violent history, Don Dirk is determined to return the Black Disciple Nation to what he considers the main core of Disciple teachings before it got intermingled with illicit activities and violence for many decades.

“I am the main person who has stepped up to assume the task of keeping King Dave's vision alive," he says.

“Our platform is still to stop the violence in the communities of Chicago and elsewhere in America. We want to uplift those who have fallen and can't get back up. We want to help those who fell out of school to get back in school and promote their communities. We want to help those who are hungry and homeless to have food and a place to live. The things [King Dave] would fight against in his time we are still fighting for it. We are using the knowledge he gave to us to improve our society.” 

As a main author of the Black Disciples literature, Don Dirk explains King Dave's vision as represented by the six point star: Love, Life,  Loyalty, Unity, Knowledge, and Understanding. Referring to the extent of violence on Chicago's Streets, Don Dirk asserted, “I don't think that if [King Dave] was alive today it would have gotten to this degree, because there was always understanding with other organizations, that is why the LSD's [Lords, Stones, and Disciples] were formed back in the 60s to bring about change, togetherness, harmony amongst the gangs, or organizations, whatever you choose to call us.”

Arthur "Bo" Stringer, a cousin of Don Dirk, has been a Black Disciple for several decades. He believe that revamping King David's vision will make a huge impact on reducing Chicago's violence:

“The solution is the problem itself. The only way to change the problem in the community is that we have to take charge of it and change it ourselves. We cannot look outside of ourself and expect outsiders to deal with it. We have to begin by engaging the youth. People are scared to deal with the youth. Don, and other brothers are not afraid to deal with the youth….This is part of what King Dave stood for.”

One reason that some Disciples believe that King Dave's approach will be useful to reduce Chicago's violence is based on what he saw as the root of the problems, as explained by a Black Gangster Disciple Nation (BGDN) member, Frederick Little (Sensei):

“If King Dave was here today, he would be totally appalled…not just about the street level, but on the home level. [King Dave thought] the street level is a reflection of what is going on in people's homes. Parents adults, guardians, are getting high, smoking, cussing in front of their kids; not checking their behavior back and fourth to school…”

Sensei encourages that any effort to use King Dave's approach to address Chicago's violence must use one of his most effective techniques, the door to door approach:

“David Barksdale would go knock on people's doors, [and say], 'This your son, this is your daughter, let me tell you what they were doing.' You not gonna get smart with him, and you will not get smart with the Don, Larry Hoover and so on. You will reflect the way they talk to you.” Sensei added that being a true Disciple entails, “staying away from drugs, being disciplined, staying in school and advancing yourself, being gainfully employed and taking care of your children and family. This is what we have to return to doing.”

Michael "White Mike" Morris is a younger Black Disciple who never met King Dave, but believes he plays an important role in keeping his vision and mission alive: “My role is to educate and instruct those who do not know; present the truth to them. It is important to know what the Disciples are about if you want to do good. I tell the community that we are about being involved in the community to help those around you, those you have love for, and standing up for what you believe in.”

Other young Black Disciples believe that if understood and used properly, the teachings, vision, and mission of King David can have a major impact on reducing violence in Chicago:

“Everything that came from the teaching of Black Disciple Nation, guides me in my every day life, by me being able to use the knowledge of the 6 pointed star” says eighteen-year-old Keyren Finch (“Trey”). 

Trey continued, “The guys out there my age, if they are able to adopt the teachings, and adopt and use them in their everyday life, there will never be as much killing among the brothers, because we are about love, loyalty…and understanding in a brotherhood…”

He advises other young men: “Don't look at the other person as your enemy unless that person is presenting themselves as your enemy at that time. You should be able to respect a person as a man first, before anything. It is not about who they are… It is about mutual respect.”

One of the toughest tasks that Don Dirk has ahead of him is to address the number of Chicago shootings and killings that occur and involve the name of Black Disciples, sometimes he claims, only in vain:

“You have those who have gotten into the Black Discipline Nation because they cool with another member of the BD Nation. You have those who are perpetrating the BD Nation and they bring a dissension to people in our name. They are making us look bad. Some might be paid to do these things. Some of them may be doing this because they want to get us back. But everybody that call themselves BD are not true BD, and they are the ones causing the problems.”

Don Dirk believes that the first step to this process of peace on the streets, is to gather the true believers of King David and involve them in a sort of re-orientation that will revive the original intentions of creating peaceful and prosperous communities, without the drug and violence problems of the past.

“True Disciple teaches us that a man is known by the manner in which he carries himself. A real Disciple will be respectable, honorable, loving, and kind. We are bringing that back for the good of all of our communities and people. We begin by promoting peace [on the streets], so look out to know more about it and support what we are doing.”

Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and CEO of Quality of Life Solutions, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.