At 15, Juan Gomez committed serious crimes against a peer in a rival gang and was sent to prison for seven years. It was during that time he began to learn about his past and reflect on his anger.
"I started reading a lot – history, philosophy, everything you could think of," Gomez said. "And as I was listening and learning about my family, I said, no, I'm not meant to be living like this. I need to come out and help out the people."
Juan now works with Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos, a nonprofit that began as a community-based peace movement in the violent streets of urban California in 1977. The program Juan works on helps boys become responsible men by teaching them about culture, traditions and values by learning to understand their past, their identity and their value in society.
"I believe in a world where we can all be seen for whom we really are, and that in our collective actions and our collective happiness, we can really make this a better place," Gomez said.
Over the past twenty-five years, Barrios Unidos has developed a model that seeks to reclaim and restore the lives of struggling youth while promoting unity among families and neighbors through community building efforts. Chapters exist all over the country, including Yakima, Washington; Falls Church, Virginia; and Fresno, California.