The Rev. Kenyatta T. Cobb is giving Jason Tyus something he's never had before -- a father's love.
As a member of the Folk gang, Tyus led a troubled life. Hustling marijuana and watching a friend die in his arms from bullet wounds, Tyus was entrenched in gang warfare centered around Buffalo's Kenfield-Langfield housing development.
Cobb was faced with one of the toughest decisions of his life.
He decided to move Tyus and four other gang members into his home for one year, raising them as if they were his own children.
Cobb's role soon blossomed from being a friend to their surrogate father.
"I knew they needed a father's love" said Cobb, 44, pastor at Hananiah Lutheran Church on Sycamore Street.
"I knew they needed a man in their lives. I thought about it and prayed on it, but the Lord ended the struggle for me."
Cobb's taking in of the young men is an experimental way of reforming Buffalo's gang members, one criminal at a time, in a city plagued by violent murders, gun play and gang battles.
The undertaking far surpassed the norm of preaching behind a pulpit or pairing clergy with criminals in counseling sessions.
Instead, Cobb made the gang members a part of his family. That also exposed him to everything from death threats to running from a barrage of bullets.
Until now, the effort has been a secret, behind-closed-doors collaboration involving Cobb, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, Housing Authority police and city police, the U.S. attorney's office, the Lutheran community, several social service agencies and ordinary city residents.
Today, Cobb tells his story. His dark brown eyes twinkled with adoration, as he recently introduced his new son, sitting inside Cobb's store-front church on Sycamore.
Jason Tyus, 18, wore baggy black jeans and a puffy, beige, down-filled jacket.
But behind his street attire, Tyus is a new man. He has left the Folk gang. For the past four months, he has been working his first job, washing dishes at TGI Friday's restaurant and training to be a short-order cook.
Tyus is taking GED classes at the Adult Learning Center and has applied to Erie Community College's criminal justice program. He dreams of one day becoming a deputy with the Erie County Sheriff's Department.
"I love him to death," Tyus said of his new father.
"He's my father. He's the only person who's been there for me in my time of need, besides my mother. He did it for no reason, just because I needed it, and he was there for me . . ."
"I really don't know who my father is."
It all began in the summer of 2002 when an organization, initiated by the Housing Authority, was formed to eradicate gangs in the Kenfield-Langfield development and nearby schools. Cobb was among those in the group -- dubbed the Kensington Task Force -- which also included representatives from the FBI, Child and Family Services and the Boys & Girls Club.
Cobb began offering weekly Bible studies to neighborhood youths. He met Tyus and his four fellow gang members. The relationship soon changed, when Tyus was arrested in September 2003 on a misdemeanor charge for running from the police.
That night, while Tyus was in jail the pastor had a dream.
"In a dream, I see a man in front of Judge McLeod and I said to him: Please let me have this young man . . .," recalled Cobb, who also serves as chaplain for the Buffalo Police Department, Erie County Detention Center and Erie County Medical Center's trauma unit.
"I heard the Lord's prayer, and I answered it."
That morning, his dream played out in court, as Cobb stood beside Tyus and pleaded with Buffalo City Judge James A.W. McLeod to free him. The judge agreed to release Tyus to the pastor's care and urged the youth to stay out of trouble. The charge was later dismissed in court.
That night, Cobb moved Tyus into his rented, three-bedroom Buffalo apartment on Columbus Parkway and Tyus' four fellow gang members -- all ages 16 to 18 years old -- soon followed.
He taught them how to live outside of the gang. He stressed the importance of good manners, cleaning, dressing appropriately and enrolling back into school. He brought them into his church and helped rekindle their faith in God.
He took them bowling, taught them karate. They often lounged around the house, watching kung-fu movies and engaging in man-to-man talks.
Donations from the Lutheran community helped Cobb provide the youths with free housing, food and clothing.
In one incident, Cobb was visiting the family of one of his newfound sons at a LaSalle Court apartment on Kenmore Avenue, when a gunman appeared at the door, prompting Cobb and his son's uncle to run outside the building. The gunman opened fire but they escaped without harm.
"I looked down the barrel of the gun while the muzzle flashed," Cobb recalled. "If I hadn't slipped, that bullet would have entered me. I believe an angel was watching me."
Talk of death threats against Cobb had begun circulating soon after the young men moved in. Folk gang leaders also vowed to kill two of the young men in his house.
In June 2003, an unknown person began calling their home several times, threatening Cobb's life and telling him: "We want two of your boys . . . We're coming for you."
The incidents prompted Buffalo police officers to patrol around the house. Within two weeks, City of Buffalo's Weed and Seed officials referred the case to the U.S. attorney's office in Buffalo, where authorities paid for Cobb and his sons to move to a home in Cheektowaga. Cheektowaga Police monitored their new home to ensure their safety.
Antwan K. Diggs is among those singing Cobb's praises. In February 1999, when Diggs was released from jail after serving six years for a New York City robbery, Cobb mentored Diggs and helped him get his first job at the YWCA in Buffalo.
"Rev. Cobb is a godsend," said Diggs, now the Youth Services coordinator for Buffalo's Weed and Seed. "He's putting himself in harm's way in the hopes that their outcome will be like it was in my life."
About seven months ago, the young men all left the nest, either returning to their own homes or moving out on their own.
Out of all five young men, Cobb says only one has been arrested again, and all have left the Folk gang.
Cobb said he's just hoping his decision will inspire other men in the community to be fathers.
"A lot of people said to leave them alone, but God said otherwise," said Cobb.