DC gang leaves violence behind for fashion business

A D.C. gang has re-branded itself, turning from fighting to fashion. Check It , the first LBGT gang in the U.S., has opened a clothing store in Anacostia and members have committed to leaving violence and crime behind.

Check It used to frequent the Gallery Place and Chinatown area and was known for brawls. Members say they came together to defend themselves and form the "family" that many didn't have at home.

"(We were) all over the news back then for, like, robbing, fighting, stealing," said Star Bennett.

Bennett helped start Check It years ago, and now she's helped transform it.

"We're entrepreneurs, we got a store, we're selling clothes, we're doing this," she said. "That is a good look for us."

The clothing store got off the ground this summer thanks to longtime D.C. activist Ron Moten. Bennett says she reached out to Moten after she went to jail for assault and her sister nearly lost her legs in a shooting.

"I was 14 when I got shot," said Johnetta Simmons, Bennett's sister. "I was, like, sitting on my mom's porch and, out of nowhere, shot."

Check It's story is so compelling, it caught the attention of documentary filmmakers.

In addition to showing violent street fights, the documentary also examines the background and struggles of Check It members.
"Some of us came from homes that were tore up and mothers and fathers on drugs," said Simmons. "And we all had to stick together and come together and be family for somebody else."

While the film has helped bring attention to the group's new venture, the store hasn't been an overnight success.

"They've come along way, but they still need a lot of support," Moten said. "Some people come and buy clothes, but it's not the support you would think. We get more support from outside of D.C. then in D.C."

Despite growing pains of a new business, those involved are proud of what they've accomplished and hopeful about the future.

"Now you say, 'Check it,' and they're like, 'Oh my God, Check It's doing so good," said Bennett. "They have their own store, they have a documentary, stuff like that. So our name came from bad to good."

The Check Store is at 1920 Martin Luther Kind Avenue in SE.

For more information or to watch the documentary, click here.