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Readers Write: How I fight gun and gang violence, as a former gang member

Letter to the Editor for the March 25, 2013 weekly print issue: As a mentor for youth involved in gangs, I agree that the combination of law enforcement and clergy mentorship is a great dynamic to implement in high-risk neighborhoods. I should know. I'm a former gang member myself.

Regarding “The Monitor’s View” of Feb. 18, “Filling hearts, ending gangs”: As a mentor for youth involved in gangs, I agree with the way Chicago is handling the gang and gun problems in its area. The combination of law enforcement and clergy mentorship, praised by the editorial, is a great dynamic to implement in high-risk neighborhoods. That is why I volunteer for a nonprofit, Freedom4Youth, that employs a similar strategy in utilizing local college students, ex-gang members, and former troubled youth, with the combined support of our local probation system.

The reason I enjoy being a youth mentor is because I was a former gang member. I became a father, and I cannot imagine losing my daughter to gang violence because of my gang history. It’s up to ex-gang members like myself to dismantle the gangs we created. I cannot just change my life and ignore the fact that others may join gangs and cause an endless cycle of pain and destruction. I do not want to have any more families and youth going through this unnecessary violence.

I believe in what President Obama says: “It is up to us, as parents and as neighbors and as teachers and as mentors, to make sure our young people don’t have that void inside them. It’s up to us to spend more time with them, to pay more attention to them, to show them more love so that they learn to love themselves, so that they learn to love one another, so that they grow up knowing what it is to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and to view the world through somebody else’s eyes.”

I will be the first in my family to graduate from college. I am graduating from California State University, Northridge, in May 2013 and then moving on to pursue my MBA. I did this with little guidance since there were no outreach programs or help. I want to help prevent senseless acts of violence and needless deaths like that of Hadiya Pendleton, an innocent bystander who was killed in a gang-related shooting in February 2013 in Chicago.

As the editorial points out, the collaboration efforts and mentorship strategy of involving police and religion are effective. Connecting “troubled” youth with the beauty and opportunity surrounding them in their community benefits the individual and the community as a whole.

Simon Arias

Santa Barbara, Calif.

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