Francisco Chavez -- R.I.P.

Francisco Chavez was a fighter for justice, for indigenous cultures and traditions, and a youth advocate who mentored and assisted many troubled youth in Los Angeles and Chicago, among other areas. A Chicano of Yaqui indigenous descent, his life had taken many complicated turns, including fighting in the civil war of Nicaragua as one of the many Chicanos who fought with Sandinistas there. For years afterwards, he brought medicines, foods, clothing, and other necessities to assist the many homeless and poor people of that country. On Tuesday, August 14, Francisco passed on to the ancestors after more than a decade of pain from liver damage due to Hepatitis C. He was 55 years old.

Francisco was also a friend of mine. We worked side by side in Chicago when I did active work among gang and nongang youth in the barrios of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Little Village, Uptown, and other communities in the 1990s. We began the Increase the Peace Network with other gang intervention and urban peace agencies including BUILD, the YMCA Street Intervention Project, Alternatives/Youth Net, Mothers Against Gang Violence, the Community Renewal Society, among others. Francisco became director of Latino Youth, an alternative high school in the Little Village neighborhood, and hooked us up with the street peace efforts of Barrios Unidos, based in Santa Cruz, CA. He helped bring the sweat lodge and other indigenous ceremonies to our work that brought to bear a badly needed spiritual component to this important life-transforming work.

I will also remember Francisco for being there when my oldest son Ramiro was incarcerated in 1997 on three counts of attempted murder. Almost every Thursday for a year and a half, Francisco visited my son, helping him with the ordeal of the charges and his detention in an electronically-advanced maximum security facility of the Cook County Jail. Francisco was there for many of my son's court cases. And when Ramiro was finally convicted to 28 years, Francisco stood by with him and his many friends and family.

Francisco--who grew up in the Primera Flats neighborhood of Boyle Heights in LA's Eastside--returned to LA and became director of Impacto Youth Services. He hired many former gang members and youth leaders to help young men and women turn their lives around. Along with my friend Louie Ruan, he helped bring the first Indigenous Youth Conference to Boyle Heights with native peoples from East LA (Chicanos and others), the Navajo and Lakota reservations, and from Canada's indigenous reserves.

However, his health worsened with problems related to his liver (including complications from a transplant).

I will always respect Francisco for his commitment to the struggle for peace and justice and how he stood by my son during the hour of his greatest need. A special memorial will be held this Saturday, August 25 at 5 PM at the Sacred Circle Center, 7648 Greenleaf Avenue, Whittier, CA 90602.

Que descanses en paz, carnal.

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