Nicky Taylor was 16 when a member of the Woodlawn Park Bloods was shot and killed at a party at her house.
The following morning, her pastor died in church – due to natural causes, but suddenly.
After her pastor died, she ran out of the church and ended up at the intersection of Northeast 17th and Holman, where hundreds and hundreds of people stood mourning her friend.
This was in 1988, as gang activity and the crack epidemic started to ramp up in Portland. Prior to that day, Taylor said, she knew little about the life. But seeing two people she knew die in front of her in the space of 24 hours changed her. Because the young person shot at her party – 17-year-old David T Kalamafoni, known as "Big Red" – was a Woodlawn Park Blood, she became a Blood too.
“That was like the beginning of my life,” she said.
For the next few years, Taylor was immersed in gang life. She’s been shot three times and has spent some time in prison. One scene in her 30-minute documentary, “The Nicole Taylor Story,” portrays her surprise as she reviews her own rap sheet.
But in the early 1990s, she left gangs behind and wrote a book, “Ask Nicky: A Young Person’s Workbook for Building Dreams,” filled with advice and exercises for young people. She’s spent much of her adult life mentoring and working with at-risk youth and discouraging them from getting involved in gangs.
Three years ago, she and two friends, both of whom came of age in Portland gangs as well, formed Neighbors Against Violence, an initiative to steer young people toward college opportunities, scholarships and jobs to keep them on a positive path.
Two years ago she made “The Nicole Taylor Story,” which describes her life as well as Portland’s gang milieu from the 1980s and 1990s. She’s also made a 60-minute documentary, which includes footage from the first and incorporates stories from others’ lives and has submitted both to Netflix.
Taylor is also planning a tour this fall to show the films to Boys and Girls Clubs and youth detention facilities all over the west coast. The tour will be funded by book sales, she said, but she is also seeking sponsorships.
Her long-term dream is to open a community center that would act as a drop-in site for kids, as well as serving as a homeless shelter.
“I’ve got to give back to my community. I helped destroy it, so I’m going to give back,” Taylor said.
Taylor formed NAV and started to re-engage with her mentoring and education work after becoming concerned about an apparent uptick in gang violence in Portland, particularly in east Portland.
“My message to the kids if just because you’re able to pull that trigger, that doesn’t mean you’re going to hit that person,” Taylor said.
Misfires and accidental shootings are common, Taylor said, and the other major lesson of her youth is that long-term friends aren’t always who young people think they will be. Many of Taylor’s childhood friends became Crips while she was a teenager, and she’s rekindled her friendships with them since leaving gang life behind.
“God revealed a lot of people to me,” Taylor said.
To contribute to the GoFundMe for the tour, visit https://www.gofundme.com/i5-taylormadefreeze-awarenesstour.
Watch the trailer for “The Nicole Taylor Story”: