TRU Colors Brewing is far from your typical brewery. To work at TRU, you have to be an active gang member — think Bloods, Crips, GD, etc.
As crazy as it might sound, TRU Colors is a for-profit company with a tightly integrated social mission to bring rival gangs together and stop gang violence. It all began two years ago, when George Taylor heard about a 16-year-old getting shot on the streets on a Sunday morning in his neighborhood in North Carolina. Having called his District Attorney to find out who the head of the gang was that had the most influence. He then spent a year hanging out with these gangs, learning how the gangs were structured, what drove the violence and building their trust.
He learned that gangs are more like a college fraternity than the mafia — they were driven by economic needs and none of them really wanted to do what they were doing. They hated the reality they created. So together with rival gang members, Taylor — who had already founded or co-founded nine startups in his career — created and launched TRU, the name representing their values: Truth (our word is our bond) + Responsibility (we handle our business) + Unity (we stand together).
Taylor saw that in order to keep influence over the 700+ gang members, they had to stay in the gang. This was the only way to influence and reduce the violence in the city. The hashtag #gunsdownmanup says it all. He needed to hire 100 guys — and to compete with street earnings, he set the minimum salary at $40K; but this is performance-based, and, if someone doesn’t perform, they are out.
Khalilah Olokunola, aka KO — TRU’s VP of HR — says that it is like a combination of the military, gangs and the Boy Scouts. They look for people with hunger, personality and influence. Once hired, the gang member spends the first four weeks with mornings in the gym and days in the classroom. They then spend months doing hard manual labor in the field. They expect the staff to be stable — stable housing, relationships, finances. If they succeed at these, they then become eligible for badges, company stock options and promotions.
Forming new bonds and trust where rivalry existed is a process, but so far, the TRU Colors team has defied everyone’s expectations of what can be achieved by gang members. They plan to launch their beer in early 2020; and from there, they will launch TRU Colors in cities across America — opening brewpubs and replicating their social mission platform of reducing gun violence.
TRU Colors is building a scalable blueprint that saves lives and enables its employees to reach their personal and professional potential. They’ve already been successful with their mission locally, with an immediate and significant drop in gang-related shootings.
When I asked Press — one of TRU’s first recruits who took part in the presentation — at an SB party later that night what makes him happy in life, he responded without hesitation, “My kids!”
This article was originally posted on the Sustainable Brands website and can be viewed here.