Appreciation And Respect: Key To Breaking The Chain Of Gangs
Josof Sanchez choked up in tears recalling his drug-dealing father. He became emotional during an interview for East Los Angeles History. In the interview, students were the major participants; they were shooting the interviews and asking questions like professional journalists.
It's part of an ongoing project of Operation Street Kidz (OSK), a non-profit organization founded by Sanchez 10 years ago to cultivate entrepreneurship and leadership of children through media study.
The project, coordinated with the East Los Angeles Library Chicano Resource Center, is seeking to make kids videotape and interview people in East LA in order to create a documentary of oral East LA history. OSK mainly teaches children to give
The non-profit organization has been working with teenagers, including those who are involved with gangs and crime. Sanchez is trying to break the chain of gang culture in the community by encouraging love and appreciation among children who previously only felt accepted and respected by gangs.
Drake Rodriguez, 18, was pretty damaged when he met Sanchez years ago. He dropped out of school in December 2010 after a schoolmate pulled a gun on him.
The young man has been living with domestic violence at the hands of his father since he was born. Rodriguez recalled he was beaten once every other week merely because his father didn’t think his son believed what he wanted him to or because he was irritated.
Rodriguez called his dad a manipulator.
“He always has hatred towards me,” said Rodriguez.
The worst case happened when Rodriquez was in the fifth grade when he was playing computer games one day, and his father suddenly became upset. He took Rodriguez to a bedroom and threw him on the bed. Rodriguez was slapped more than 40 times on the face and his jaw was distorted.
Another day when Rodriguez's mother brought him new clothes, his dad broke the hangers on his head.
“He expects me to respect him when he was not all that to me,” Rodriguez said.
At the age of 10, Rodriguez started to hang out on the streets and tried to avoid his brutal father as much as possible. He didn’t know at that time, the seed of hatred had implanted in him.
Rodriguez's trouble with his parents had affected his studies. When the school found out that Rodriguez was having problems in class, they simply put him in an English learning development class, which was not what he needed and made him feel isolated.
Gradually, Rodriguez became silent at school. His poor verbal communication caused other kids to pick on him, thinking he was mentally disabled. The fight with classmates finally led to the gun being pointed at him and resulted in his withdrawal from school. But Rodriguez didn’t want to give up and called Sanchez to join his project.
The involvement with gangs was on and off for Rodriguez. He used to hang out on Main Street where there were a lot of gangs and drug dealing. Rodriguez said he never followed any gangs, but the gangs claimed him as one of them. Due to his affiliation with gangs, Rodriguez had trouble with police.
He was charged with running from the police who tried to arrest him for truancy three years ago. According to Rodriguez, he was the victim of police abuse when he was arrested for suspicion of arson. After a long interrogation, he gave in and admitted something he said he never did. Neither a legal guardian, instructor or psychologist was with him during the interrogation, nor were his legal rights recognized by the police, he said.
Rodriguez hardly understood what the detective said at that time. His criminal record still exists.
“Nobody is paying attention to your problem, when they are doing their job, justice or whatever,” he said.
Two years ago, a gang member threatened to kill Rodriguez if he didn’t kill a targeted person. Rodriguez then decided to stay away from gangs because he found that he had no friend or sense of belonging with them. It is difficult to leave the gang once one is considered a member. Rodriguez avoided going outside for a year for fear of being found.
Sanchez was the first person who told Rodriguez that he was special. He taught Rodriguez the importance of respect, appreciation and love, and gradually released him from the anger inside. To Rodriguez, Sanchez is like a father he never had. Right now Rodriguez is working closely with Sanchez in OSK. His dream is to be an inspirational speaker and start his own business to give back to the community.
“I am at peace with myself for the first time in my life,” he said.
Sanchez said the vicious circle of gangs usually starts with the pain from a brutal environment. Then bitterness is created, followed by hatred, and hatred eventually leads to violence. Sanchez, 60, also works in the LA Probation Commission. His work with juvenile justice has often brought him to build relationships with children in trouble.
One of the most important things that Sanchez teaches to these teenagers is attitude, which is attitude about oneself, toward culture and another race.
“My biggest theme is to let them know they are special,” Sanchez said.
Reach Shako Liu here.
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