By Carlos G. Rodriguez, Program Director
On a chilly Wednesday morning in November, the Pathways in Education program in Chicago welcomed poet, writer, and peacemaker, Luis J. Rodriguez to its campus. Mr. Rodriguez is the award-winning author of the book, “Always Running – La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.” To date, he has published 16 books.
Set in the predominantly Mexican-American Brighton Park neighborhood on the Southwest side of Chicago, Pathways is home to one of the WestCare Illinois Seven Challenges groups. Group members, staff, and other students were treated to Mr. Rodriguez’s story of how he struggled with drugs, alcohol, and gang involvement. Mr. Rodriguez talked about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his older brother. He also talked about his father’s sexual abuse of his sister and how these experiences led him to want to numb himself with drugs and alcohol. “We didn’t have programs like The Seven Challenges back then,” remarked Mr. Rodriguez. “I had to stop using, ‘cold turkey.’”
Mr. Rodriguez encouraged students to own their lives, learn to ask for support, nurture their own art, and follow through with their decisions about what they want out of life. “I was a gang member, but that’s in the past,” stated Rodriguez. “I put myself on permanent community service as my ‘consequence’ for all of the pain that I caused when I was younger.”
Mr. Rodriguez closed his presentation to the school with the following:
Mr. Rodriguez autographed copies of his book that were provided by the school. The Seven Challenges group members were able to meet with him one-on-one. “Your life reminds me of my own,” remarked one group member. “I feel like your story makes me feel that I am important.”