Gang Leader for a Day


Sudhir Venkatesh

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Gang Leader for a Day Characters

Sudhir Venkatesh

The protagonist and narrator of Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir begins studying the projects on the South Side of Chicago as part of his doctoral research at the University of Chicago. Over the… read analysis of Sudhir Venkatesh


Sudhir’s primary research subject, JT is a mid-level manager of the Black Kings, one of the larger, predominantly African-American gangs in Chicago in the 1980s and ‘90s. JT makes a living organizing the drug… read analysis of JT

Ms. Bailey

A nominally elected local figure and representative for tenants’ rights in Building A of the Robert Taylor Homes, Ms. Bailey has a great deal of power in allocating resources for families living around her. Sudhirread analysis of Ms. Bailey

Professor Bill Wilson

Sudhir’s dissertation adviser, Bill Wilson is one of the most famous faculty members in the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago. Wilson kick-starts Sudhir’s research by asking him to take a questionnaire into… read analysis of Professor Bill Wilson

Charlie and Old Time

Two old men with whom Sudhir converses in a park near the University of Chicago campus. Charlie and Old Time give Sudhir valuable information about black urban community organizations of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but… read analysis of Charlie and Old Time
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A “regular” squatter and “hustler” in Robert Taylor, C-Note gets his name from his ability to make “one hundred dollars” in “a hundred ways.” C-Note’s hustles including fixing cars and appliances, though he sometimes runs… read analysis of C-Note


A young member of the BKs, Shorty-Lee agrees to run a group of “registrars” through Robert Taylor, asking for official “votes” from residents. When Shorty-Lee confronts one woman at her apartment, however, it is revealed… read analysis of Shorty-Lee


A former business partner of Ms. Bailey's mother, Cordella tells Sudhir, during an interview, that she and Ms. Bailey used to manage a brothel in the Robert Taylor Homes. Cordella insists that this… read analysis of Cordella
Minor Characters
Ms. Mae
JT’s mother, Ms. Mae lives in the Robert Taylor Homes. Her apartment is a home base for Sudhir; she often feeds him dinner, and he retreats there to draft notes regarding a day’s research in the projects.
A prostitute in Robert Taylor and a distant relative of JT’s, Clarisse gives Sudhir important information about what it’s like to be a sex worker in the projects of the South Side – who can protect you, and for what price, while working in that hazardous occupation.
Ms. Bailey’s most industrious and influential assistant. Catrina is killed near the close of the narrative, accidentally, when caught in an argument between her brother and father.
One of JT’s lieutenants in the Black Kings. T-Bone manages the gang’s finances, and gives Sudhir a “ledger” with valuable financial information at the end of the book, which Sudhir later uses as the basis for a good deal of his sociological research.
Another of JT’s lieutenants in the BKs. Price is shot during a drive-by outside Robert Taylor, and Sudhir helps drag him to safety, saving his life.
Another of JT’s lieutenants, mentioned relatively early in the narrative but not later.
Ms. Easley
A member of the “tenant patrol” at Robert Taylor, whom JT pays off with BK money. Ms. Easley then uses this money to buy school supplies for children in the Homes.
A squatter in Robert Taylor. Brass refuses to pay JT his full “tax,” and JT and other BKs beat Brass for not following his orders.
Lenny Duster
A community organizer in Robert Taylor. Lenny runs an organization called PRIDE, which helps with voter turnout in the Homes, though often in an irregular and unofficial capacity.
Kris and Michael
Two other “hustlers” in Robert Taylor, Kris and Michael run a pop-up car wash in a parking lot and rely on BK members to make sure customers pay their fair share for services rendered.
Mother to Coco, Boo-Boo tells JT that the “Arab” working at the bodega has been “raping” her daughter.
Daughter of Boo-Boo. Sudhir learns that Coco is indeed sleeping with a manager of the bodega, but that their relationship is consensual, and that many women in Robert Taylor sleep with shop owners in the neighborhood in exchange for goods and services for their families.
Officer Reggie
A police officer stationed near Robert Taylor, Officer Reggie uses “flexible” but ethical police standards to make sure that peace largely reigns between rival gang factions in that area.
Officer Jerry
A policeman who sometimes works with Officer Reggie, Officer Jerry uses unethical practices, violence, and the demanding of bribes and other financial tributes to strike fear into the hearts of Robert Taylor residents.
Director of a Girls and Boys Club in Building B of Robert Taylor, Autry often mediates disputes between rival gang factions, and allows Sudhir to observe some of these mediations, which typically take place late at night.
Pastor Wilkins
A minister based in a congregation in the local community, Pastor Wilkins works with Autry and Officer Reggie to mediate disputes between gangs.
A bodega manager near Robert Taylor. Johnny agrees to offer fair prices to BK members after he is “shaken down” by JT, T-Bone, and Price during Sudhir’s day as leader of the gang.
Billy and Otis
Two “foot soldiers” who sell crack on the streets of the South Side for the BKs. Billy and Otis have a dispute about who owes whom money, which Sudhir attempts to mediate during his day as leader of the gang.
A man living in Robert Taylor, Bee-Bee is captured via vigilante justice and brought before Ms. Bailey for judgment, after he is accused of beating his girlfriend, Taneesha.
Girlfriend to Bee-Bee, Taneesha survives her beating and is cared for by Catrina, Ms. Bailey, and others living near her in Robert Taylor.
A resident of Robert Taylor as the Homes are prepared to be razed, Dorothy organizes an unofficial network with other families to make sure that displaced community members can live near one another, once Robert Taylor is no more.
A mid-level manager in the BKs and associate of JT's, Curly manages the drug-dealing market in the Robert Taylor Homes before leaving the job voluntarily, and "transferring" to another location, so that JT can take over. Curly and JT maintain a friendly relationship throughout this process.