Former Latin Gang Member Helps Youngsters’ Social Reintegration While Preparing Return to Harva
By Dialogo January 28, 2009After 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.