For seven years, sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh led a double life in Chicago, reports National Public Radio. For days, Venkatesh stayed inside one of Chicago’s worst housing projects living with poor families and hanging out with gang members. Then he returned to the tony Hyde Park neighborhood, where he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Now at Columbia University, Venkatesh ventured into Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes housing project in the 1990s to do research for his doctorate. He befriended the leader of the Black Kings, one of the largest and most violent crack-dealing gangs, and led the group for a day.
Venkatesh’s new book, Gang Leader for a Day, describes his years inside the projects and how residents and gang members interacted, coexisted, and raised families. Venkatesh’s guide during his research was J.T., the leader of the Black Kings who took an interest in the budding academic and showed him the ropes inside the projects. Though J.T. had a college degree, he left corporate America to run a drug operation that made him up to $100,000 a year.