It ended at 22, when he was incarcerated for selling drugs. After serving 15 years in federal prison, he wants to keep other children from making the same mistakes.
“When I came back, God gave me a vision to stop the things I used to do ... ,” he said. “I’m trying to get the kids off the streets so they can see there’s a better way of living instead of killing each other and fighting.”
Burden’s vision was made a reality in 2006 when he started the group Colors of Life Inc. The group, which includes 66 children, meets at the Hayswood Community Center five days a week for activities and field trips.
Burden, who is from Lumberton, hopes the group will help local kids make better choices that don’t involve gang activity.
“There isn’t anybody in the Robeson County area that’s born into a gang,” he said.
“Out in California, you are born into gangs. ... It’s a choice (here).”
In his khaki pants and button-down shirt, Burden leads a group prayer before the children leave for a trip to the bowling alley. While his dark past is not apparent in this setting, he knows the struggles the children face.
Raised by a single mother, Burden and his younger brother began selling drugs at a young age to help her financially.
“We were trying to do better for our mother because we seen the struggles she was going through,” he said.
In 1998, while Burden was still incarcerated, his younger brother was killed.
“Today, we have kids that are going through the same thing ... So that’s why now I let the kids know in the community that you don’t have to gangbang. You don’t have to go to jail,” he said.
Burden’s history helps him to get children out of the more than 10 gangs that exist in Robeson County.
“I have a good rapport with the gang leaders that if I go out and talk to them and let them know that I want them to release a child that’s in a
gang, they are willing to do that,” he said.
The children in his group range in age from 9 to 15. While a few of them are still in gangs, Burden said the group is helping guide them toward a better life.
“I see that in order to get these kids off the streets and stop the gang problem we have, first we must show these kids that we love them and we care about them,” he said.
Colors of Life is a partnership with Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is a nationwide program to reduce gun and gang crime by partnering with existing local programs. Burden said he has helped the Public Schools of Robeson County with its gang problems by talking to students who want to get out.
Burden also wants to get churches involved. So far, Higher Call to Ministry and First Baptist Church have joined him. He said churches provide another alternative to the streets.
Burden said many kids just don’t know where to turn for help.
“We have so many gang members in the school system, and they (are) hollering for help. We have so many gang members in the community that are hollering for help. But, they don’t where to get the help from. They want to get out — they don’t know how.”
Burden said in order to solve the gang problem in Robeson County, or anywhere, everyone has to work together instead of pointing fingers.
“To help these kids, we gotta get off our high horses and we gotta start looking out for the kids,” he said.
“This here, is not about me, it’s not about Project Safe Neighborhoods, it’s about these kids. We gotta save these kids. They are our future.”