I spent ten days in Chicago – from August 2 until August 12 – to see my son Ramiro, recently released after 13-and-a-half years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It was a wonderful time. My son looks healthy, in good spirits, and focused on a new life. He’s staying at one of the best transitional housing for parolees in the state. I even got to speak to the parolees for about an hour, a request by Ramiro’s case manager. I also found time to re-connect with friends—Gerardo Serna spent a few breakfasts with me as well as visits with Ramiro. He also spoke to the parolees with me—we’ve had many years in Chicago establishing urban peace programs and mentoring/healing relationships with gang and nongang youth. Another friend, James Lilly, is a world-class wheelchair racer (his image will appear on a mural in downtown and in pole banners near a rehabilitation hospital) who was paralyzed at age 15 in gang violence. For the past decade, he’s been moving up the international wheel-chair racing world, including marathons all over the US—and he speaks in schools and other facilities to help keep kids out of gangs and violence. His story is powerfully told at www.pushin-forward.net. My compa from LA, Frank Lizornio, just moved to Chicago and also accompanied me to see Ramiro in my ongoing efforts to surround my son with positive, active, and decent men. Frank—known to his friends as Pancho—is a long-time family and youth counselor. We’ve worked together helping young fathers, gang-involved youth, and teenage drug users over the years. His wife now works with the University of Illinois, Chicago, Education Department. We also had a reunion of the older pioneering leaders of Youth Struggling for Survival, a nonprofit I helped create some sixteen years ago with troubled youth, their parents, and community leaders from the Chicago neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Little Village, Uptown, among others. Almost all of these young people work, have families, and have removed themselves for a few years now from the world of guns and drugs. A few I knew when they were 12 or 13 years old. Now they are healthy young fathers, mothers, workers, businesspeople, community leaders. Ramiro and my daughter Andrea, as well as their mother Camila, were also there—all three are YSS founders. I have to give props to Manny, Ruth, Rocio, Lorena, Ely, and all the rest who came by Palmer Square Park in Logan Square to join us. It was interesting to see my granddaughter Catalina among them. Now 14, she was just a baby when we started this group. The most special time of my trip in Chicago, however, was a Young Woman’s Ceremony conducted in Sterling, IL for my 15-year-old granddaughter Amanda May, one of Ramiro’s three teenaged kids. My wife Trini and I facilitated a Native-rooted ceremony and circle to acknowledge and honor this important stage in Amanda’s life. My other granddaughter, Anastasia, 16, was there as was Ramiro, of course, Andrea, Catalina, Camila, and our many family and friends. Although it rained earlier in the day, the sky cleared for the ceremony and the feast afterwards, as if to make room for us to pay attention properly and prayerfully for Amanda May. She looked radiant—I was so proud. I also connected with my many activist friends in Chicago, a city I hold dear to my heart. One special gathering on a Friday night was held to welcome back Trini, who's had almost ten years of not coming back to the city. I could tell she was so happy to be re-embraced by many who continue to love and think of her, aware of her new life as Operations Director of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and as Native women’s sweat lodge facilitator, healer, and teacher. I spent fifteen years in Chicago from 1985 to 2000 (Trini lived here a couple years longer), during the worse gang violence in the city’s history—a city long known for gangs and violence. We established peace efforts that have now become widespread throughout the region and other parts of the country. The violence, unfortunately, continues. Shootings were constant in certain neighborhoods even during my short visit. Yet, I know, great work is blooming and developing to help bring our broken communities together. One good thing is to see Ramiro committed to that work, to help bring healing, peace, justice to cities like Chicago. I returned to LA strong and hopeful, but also with an internal calm. I never could relax or sleep properly as long as my son was behind bars. I can breath more freely now, knowing that dangers lurk at most corners and there are difficult roads ahead. It’s in my son’s hands to shape his life—I plan to be there as a positive and guiding hand whenever I can. c/s
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