The drive to San Diego from the San Fernando Valley last Tuesday was smooth on a beautiful Southern California day. Trini and I were on our way to downtown to be part of the 41st Annual Conference of the Juvenile Court, Community and Alternative School Administrators of California. I keynoted the next day’s luncheon, speaking to people who work with the kids that nobody else will work with. They are the last line of mentoring adults who can help turn a young person’s life around. My talk, with engaging dialogue from the audience, was well received—I addressed the value of not giving up, of relationships over rules, of high expectations and high patience. The next day, I re-visited the San Diego County Juvenile Hall. I drove up with Roberto “Beto” Carrillo and Anthony Limoges, principals of juvenile court schools in the county. They are hard working and caring men—Mr. Limoges even co-wrote a book with Dr. Monte Selby called Bricks and Bridges: Bridging the Gap to At-Risk Youth from Incentive Publications I entered the maximum-security section where I addressed around twenty young men, a few of them having been convicted as adults or facing adult sentences. One young man, I believe age 15, had already been given forty years to life. He will be in juvenile facilities until 18, then transferred to an adult prison. Prior to this, I did get a chance to say hello to a small group of young women—females are the fastest growing juvenile prison population in the state. The women were preparing for sports when I entered their cubicle area. A few had read my book “Always Running” and seemed honored to meet me. I wanted to pay my respects and wished them well. I had a rich and powerful talk with the young men—their questions were smart and insightful. Most had read my book. Again, I talked about the purposeful, meaningful life they must seek, no matter where they are. I talked about the possibilities for change, healing, redemption, from my own life, but also the lives of young people I’ve worked with for around forty years. I also talked about my son Ramiro, who just finished thirteen years in prison, but changed his life while incarcerated—he’s slated to be released this July. I appreciated all those who helped make this happen. Trini and I enjoyed San Diego—as in the past—very much. Last Friday, I also addressed students from Watts, Gardena, San Gabriel Valley, and other communities in the Youth Build Charter Schools who managed a field trip to Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. For the past three years or so, I’ve talked to about two schools a month from all over who’ve arranged for buses or rides to bring students to our cultural space and bookstore. They’ve come from East LA, Pomona, Long Beach, Orange County—we even had a school from Oakland come twice. While I also speak in schools throughout the area, I have to charge a fee. But with current budget crunches, this is the next best option. I won’t charge to speak at Tia Chucha’s, the only costs being the buses and, I hope, for students to walk out with a book in their hands. I have to say, as always, the Youth Build students were respectful and challenging with their questions. On Saturday, May 15, I was at the Defending Seeds Collective meeting at Tia Chucha’s. This is a group of young leaders from Sylmar High School and alumni. They are part of the Sylmar Neighborhood Partnership and a new community-school prevention and intervention initiative at the school. They have prepared plans and a power-point presentation for a community conference, led by the youth, to address issues of drugs, HIV, cancer, diet, teen pregnancy, and more. My fifteen-year-old son Luis, a student of the Humanitas Academy at Sylmar High, is also involved. Then around 1 PM, I took part at a “Peace in the Northeast” Community March and Rally in Highland Park. The Northeast LA area is one of the most violent communities in the city. I was a speaker among bands, rap groups, preachers, youth, parents, and more who addressed the audience from the stage at Sycamore Grove Park. All around us were tents with community service providers and food vendors. The march started at Luther Burbank Middle School, ending up at the park. I’m proud to say my nephew, Pastor Ezra La Turco, was one of the main organizers. He is a strong Christian man who brought his wife and three children to the rally—he’s expecting another child soon. Victory Outreach and other Christian groups were key members of the organizing team. While my spiritual practices are in Native American and Native Mexican traditions, I’ve worked with Catholics and Evangelicals on peace and gang intervention efforts for years. Anyone who knows me understands I’ve reached out across spiritual traditions so that we can bring our energies towards real and lasting peace in our neighborhoods. I’m glad that the organizers could see how active I’ve been in the spiritual awakening of our communities—and that for peace and the wellbeing of our children, youth, and families we can find spaces of unity and collective action. And later I keynoted a ceremony honoring the Latino graduates at nearby Occidental College. My friends from the band Ollin entertained a large number of parents and family of these graduates, who also shared a Mexican meal and cake. I’ve done a few commencement and keynote talks for college graduates over the years. I generally have to say that I never graduated from college, that my failure to do so only underscores my respect for those young people who struggled hard, against great odds, to obtain their degrees. My family was a working class family of a generation in which higher education was not always valued. Of my father’s eight children and more than thirty grandchildren, only my daughter Andrea finished college. This is not to put my family or others like them down—again, this was not pushed as much in my time, although never discouraged. Yet I’ve achieved a modicum of recognition in the writing world. From my standpoint, I encourage as many young people as possible to get a strong college and/or university foundation. I had to work extra hard, wait longer, and jump more hurdles because I lacked the proper credentials. I also emphasized to the graduates that no degree is as important as the agreement they must make with themselves to live out the lives they were meant to live. This is about meeting the demands of their destinies, their dreams, their purposes. That this primary agreement should be to live out the story that was written on their souls before they were born. Colleges and universities—you can’t beat them for preparing one to achieve levels of competence in any field deemed necessary. But the real aim of any young person should be to eventually do what they love, what their heart tells them, what gratifies their souls, to work in areas where they have the most passions. c/s
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