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Former Latin Gang Member Helps Youngsters’ Social Reintegration While ‎Preparing Return to Harva

By Dialogo
January 28, 2009

After several terms in juvenile prison, the Mexican-American Daniel Mora decided to ‎change paths and now persuades gang members to go back to school, while he is ‎preparing to get a master’s degree at Harvard University. ‎ Mora grew up in a violent environment. ‎ ‎“Since I was 12, I never believed that I was going to live more than 20 years,” the young ‎man told EFE. He was born 23 years ago in Oakland, California. ‎ ‎“Because of the violence I witnessed every day in the communities I belonged to, where I ‎had to attend my friends’ funerals, I saw their parents crying, and other friends that ended ‎up in prison,” the UCB student explained. He served time in Oakland’s juvenile detention ‎facility six times between the ages of 12 and 17 because of problems with gangs. ‎ The turning point in his life came with the agent who was handling his case at the ‎juvenile prison, and who told him that, despite the fact that after turning 18 he would ‎have to go to the adults’ prison, she would continue looking for a second chance for him. ‎ The only requirement was that he followed the advice of a youth-at-risk counselor. ‎ ‎“The problem was that I had never had a role model to follow until I heard the advisor ‎‎(Emilio Mena from the program “Youth Alive”), who had lived the neighborhood life, ‎just like me,” he said.‎ ‎“He was like a big brother for me, and he told me: I am going to be very clear; you need ‎to accept your mistakes and I want you to tell me what you want to do in the future,” he ‎said. ‎ The young man told his advisor that he needed a job to help his mother, to get a driving ‎license, to write poetry to be sung in hip-hop music, and to continue studying. ‎ ‎ ‎“I passed high school studying at home, and then I entered Laney and Merrit Colleges in ‎Oakland to prepare myself for the University of Berkeley,” he said. ‎ The son of immigrants from Guadalajara, Mexico, Mora is the only of five brothers who ‎has been able to go to college. ‎ ‎“I am currently filling out an application to study for a master’s degree at (the University ‎of) Harvard, because I see myself as a teacher in the future,” he said. ‎ Mora has recorded six hip-hop records, and he devotes a great deal of time to visiting ‎communities as a volunteer for the organizations “Youth Alive” and “Homeboy goes to ‎Harvard,” singing and chatting with young people to convince them not to quit school or ‎to get back to their studies so they can get a good job in the future. ‎ ‎“I tell young people that gangs have good things, such as a feeling of family, support, ‎pride, art; however, we have to change the way we put all that into action,” he said. ‎ ‎“Because if we use all that to hate others, that is not good,” said the former gang member, ‎who at the same time suggests using talent to make community murals instead of ‎defacing walls with graffiti. In recognition of his efforts to convince young people to quit gang violence and continue ‎studying, UC-Berkeley presented him with the chancellor’s award for public service in ‎‎2008. ‎ Among the awards he had received from other institutions, he was specially recognized ‎by Congress for his work with youth at risk in 2005 and 2007. ‎ ‎“Right now I’m part of a hip-hop group called ‘Brwn-Bflo.’ We are all from Berkeley, ‎where we sing what we think about political and social problems,” he explained. ‎ ‎ “Thanks to this work, politicians, school directors, and prison officers invite us to come, ‎even to other states, to sing and bring young people our message of hope,” he ended‎.
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