ANTONIO FERNANDEZ aka KING TONE
Former Gang Leader, Underground Prophet, Social Provocateur, Leadership Guru
'In ten years I'll be out, stronger and smarter than ever'
These were the words of Antonio Fernandez, aka King Tone, former head of the Latin Kings (the largest Hispanic street gang in the U.S), as he entered a trial in which he'd plead guilty for drug charges. Upon his release, Antonio has begun a new chapter where he shares his unique insights as a former gang leader and political activist. Now an advisor to community and business leaders around the world, Antonio is sticking to his statement.
Antonio Fernandez is not your average gang leader. In 1997, a few months after his appointment as leader of the Latin Kings, The New York Times posed the question whether Antonio was a "Man of Vision or of Violence". They concluded he was the former, a man with the self-assigned mission of transforming the Latin Kings from an organised crime syndicate to a political movement, fighting for social justice on behalf of suppressed Latin American community.
Antonio is a true rarity and a paradox. He seemed set for a life of addiction and crime until he went to prison and found solace in a gang. He saw something in the criminal organisation that others didn't - a place that offered the structure and love that he needed to beat addiction. From his own experiences he knew the Latin Kings had more to offer. Mirroring the activism of groups such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, he wanted to reform and rebrand the Latin Kings and its 7,000 members. He united the divided sects of the gang and presented his ideas at local meetings, building the new principles of the Latin Kings from the ground up. He had hardened gangsters canvasing for politicians and feeding the homeless. The youngsters were given curfews and sheltered from elder members who were entrenched in crime. The police called him a "gangster with a PR campaign", but to many he was a symbol of hope.
There are thousands of academic papers contemplating what it means to be a charismatic leader, but only a few embody it. Antonio is both inspirational and critical - a rare voice.
The Latin Kings - A Street Gang Story by HBO
New York Times article on Antonio Fernandez