The Assistant US Attorney was surprised and seemingly angered by the dozens of letters of support for Charles Newsome, half of which came from children asking for leniency in Charles's 1986 sentencing.
At the time of his arrest in 1984, Charles was a head of the 29th street mob also known as the “Peanut Gang", which was the largest cocaine ring ever to operate in the city of Richmond. Charles had a reputation for being a sharp, violent businessman who reaped millions dealing degradation, shame, and heartbreak to the community where he was raised. Fortunately, he began to turn his life around when he was paroled after serving 8 years of his 11 year sentence. Upon being released, Charles worked as a restaurant manager for several years at KFC, Denny's,Taco Bell, Lions Restaurant, Pizza Hut, and LJS. In 2000, he began working with Rose Manor Funeral Service, while also working as a car salesman at Hilltop Ford/Chrysler-Team Chevrolet of Vallejo, and a Site Supervisor/Special Ed aide with the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Ultimately though, Charles wanted to work with troubled youth, so he volunteered in a missionary program with his father, the late Reverend C.W. Newsome (a well known pastor at the 100 year-old North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church – the first Black church in Contra Costa County). However, it wasn’t until Charles's 22 year-old biological nephew was murdered in 2003 as a victim of mistaken identity that he became truly committed to violence prevention work.
Charles began working as an unofficial street level mentor/social worker at homicide scenes in Richmond, where he would console family members and friends with the empathy and understanding gained from personally experiencing the murder of loved ones (Charles's only brother Arthur, 31, baby sister Shunita, 25, three beloved nephews 22, 19, and 12, as well as other young relatives and family friends were all victims of homicide).
In 2005, Charles became the President of the Richmond branch of the NAACP, where he created a network of services for youth and young adults in the community, culminating in a Black on Black Crime Summit that brought community leaders and activists together under a unified banner to address the root causes of Richmond’s city-wide violence. Over 300 people attended and participated in the summit’s activities, seminars, and workshops.
One year later in 2006, Charles, as President of the Richmond NAACP, launched the Tent City anti-violence protest. Frustrated with a spate of shootings, he pitched a tent in a parking lot in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood on the spot where a cousin of his, along with a childhood friend, had been recently killed. Within an hour, people began showing up with contributions of food, blankets, and cases of water. Within a week, three more tent sites sprang up in the North, South and East sides of Richmond, contributing to a steep decrease in neighborhood violence. The results brought local politicians, including Congressman George Miller, to the sites, which sparked a broader conversation around gun violence and homicide prevention in the city.
In 2007, Charles signed a contract with the City of Richmond to consult government officials on the creation of the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), along with City Manager Bill Lyndsey and Devone Bogan, who was appointed as Director of the Office. Charles worked a few years as a Peace Keeper for the ONS before becoming a member of the Safe Return Project in 2012. As a senior member, he was instrumental in negotiating the most progressive “Ban the Box” policy in the US for the city of Richmond, and in collaboration with California-based restorative justice groups such as All of Us Or None, went on to Sacramento to lobby successfully for a sustainable and holistic “Ban the Box” policy for the State of California.
Today, Charles continues to work as a youth mentor for New Life Movement. At New Life, Charles mentors at-risk youth, promoting mental, academic, social, and economic empowerment through the cultivation of life skills such as socio-emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.