King and Dammian Williams, 19, once sold drugs on North Avenue. Now they lead Youth for Social Change with activist Daryl Holland. With Holland's guidance, Williams and King are taking over a 50-year-old ice cream parlor called Double Dip Ice Cream in the North Side business district along Brookland Park Boulevard.
"I'm so damn happy," Holland says. "Here are guys who used to run the streets here, and now they're going to run a business."
The opportunity came from Reginald Epps, a former addict turned real estate entrepreneur who operates a "clean and sober" club for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction down the street from the ice cream shop.
Epps says he was driving down Chamberlayne Avenue when he saw two young men Williams and King standing on the street raising money for Youth for Social Change. He was impressed by their humility, he says.
Epps stopped and spoke with them, and later "had a brainstorm." Maybe the young men could take over running the ice cream parlor he owned, originally called James' HomeMade Ice Cream, with the hope they would purchase the shop one day. "I just saw them with the little white aprons in my mind and learning to make ice cream, learning to become entrepreneurs, learning to become managers," Epps says.
That's how Epps got started he lease-purchased a Laundromat business and used the proceeds to buy other properties.
From the painted tin ceiling to the Pepto-pink countertops and hand-painted menu board, the ice cream shop looks like something out of an old photograph.
"An ice cream shop is just the first step," says a soft-spoken King, who wears a gold cross around his neck. He hopes the shop will become a neighborhood hangout for kids. King began running with the Bloods when he was only 12.
"A lot of young brothers would look up to these as they say O.G.s," King says, meaning "Original Gangsters."
Sometimes King runs into his old friends from the gang, he says, and they don't understand why he left. "They always ask me why. I say, 'Man, it's 2006. I had to change something.'"
The shop, at 22 W. Brookland Park Blvd., will officially open next week. S
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.