Ex-gang leader turned pastor opens up efforts to reduce knife crime in London and beyond

Pastor Onyeka Power Onyekwulu

Pastor Onyeka Power Onyekwulu was a gang leader in Brixton as a teenager. - Credit: KLM

A former gang leader turned pastor from Potters Bar is hoping his story can inspire young people to reduce knife and gang crime in London and beyond.

Pastor Onyeka Power Onyekwulu preaches at the Kingdom Life Ministries church in Tottenham, empowering the capital’s youth and helping them turn their lives around.

At 15, he became involved in gangs in Brixton, rising to be one of the leaders before finding God.

“It was what I knew in the beginning, but as I matured and got older, I realised it was a false lifestyle,” he told the Welwyn Hatfield Times.

“It was not going to lead me anywhere, either to jail or dead.

“When I was in gangs, a few of my friends died. One of my friends died at the age of 15, and I was there when he got stabbed. When it happened it made things worse, but as time went on, I realised that wasn’t the life I wanted to live.

“When you’re in gangs and that lifestyle you think that’s all there is to life, but my eyes opened when I started going to church at 17.

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“That’s when I realised that lifestyle would take me nowhere, and it would only lead to death or prison, so decided to take a U-turn at the age of 18.”

Pastor Onyeka Power Onyekwulu

Pastor Onyeka preaching at Kingdom Life Ministries church in Tottenham. - Credit: KLM

Now 25 and a senior pastor, Onyeka inspires young people through his story, preaching the word of God and using mentorship to support them, with up to 100 youngsters coming to the church every week.

He also produced a BBC documentary, Our Borough: Love and Hustle, looking beyond the street violence to tell the story of young people in north London.

In 2021, London recorded its worst annual death toll of teenage homicides, with 30 young men killed in the capital.

Pastor Onyeka believes religion can be key in reducing knife crime offences, saying: “I think God and church are so important because that’s how I changed.

“When people pick up a knife and stab someone, it’s a force making them do it, because no one in their right mind would do that. When I came to God, I understood that.

“People don’t know why they are in gangs and why they are stabbing people, there’s a force making them do it, and I believe the power of God makes you change and stops you living that life.

“That’s why so many people who come to the church are saved.”

Pastor Onyeka also believes that despite the best efforts of the police and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, knife crime can only be stopped if people like him who have been involved in gangs are allowed to speak up.

Pastor Onyeka Power Onyekwulu

Pastor Onyeka speaking to young people on the streets - Credit: KLM

“They are doing their best, but I think with the police and the Mayor of London, they can’t relate with young people in that lifestyle,” he said.

“With someone like myself who has been in that life and found a way out, they can relate. I believe if they were to give people like me more of an opportunity to speak, it would help.

“If you haven’t been through what the person you’re trying to help is going through, you don’t have the same level of compassion or patience.

“I’m patient with young people because I lived that lifestyle and I didn’t change quickly. We’ve been there before so we know what to say and do.

“We had a young man who was selling drugs come to our church and he put his drug phone on the alter, and now he’s working and living in society. That’s because we could relate with him and help him.

“We are putting our previous mistakes into a message for young people now. I believe that what I went through will inspire them, as I can be who I am now without being who I was then.

“Now I’m a mentor and a pastor, but you don’t have to go through that lifestyle to discover there are better things for you in life, because you might not make it.

“I was fortunate enough to make it, but others weren’t fortunate enough to make it and discover their purpose. That’s why I share my story.”

While the knife and gang crime in London receives much of the media focus, Pastor Onyeka admitted that it’s happening in Potters Bar too, and he’s trying to help those involved.

“Sometimes people think if it’s not in London it’s okay, but there are people in Potters Bar who are living that lifestyle, it just hasn’t been highlighted as place with a lot of gang violence,” he said.

“Helping young people find the right path is so important.

“It starts off with hanging around with your friends, maybe with the wrong crowd, then you start stealing, then the drugs come in and that’s when the violence starts.

“My job is not only about talking to young people in London, but young people everywhere.”