05/06/2012 10:05 am ET | Updated Jul 06, 2012

Going Back to Cali: Story of an At-Risk Youth Turned Advocate

I had an amazing experience. For the first time in my life, my work and my family from back home came together in one place, Oakland, CA. As a teenager, I left California in order to escape a life of crime, death, or seemingly inevitable imprisonment. I have been so dissociated from my life there that I only returned home to the Bay area for funerals. A few weeks ago I shared with friends that I would soon return home to California to help a church raise money for their programs that keep kids in school and decrease the dropout rate through the Student SWAG program. I also shared that I wasn't sure how this trip would turn out and was very nervous.


I knew family members would come together because I was home, although my memories of past family gatherings were not all that great. Some were good but others ended in violence or the police taking someone away. I had no idea what was to happen on this day, so I prepared myself to be happy and enjoy family and mentally be ready for any drama.

What actually took place was one of the best and most memorable moments in my life. God took a place that was the source of my pain and made it the place where I would find peace. I felt so much love from my family and heard them say how proud they are of me, something I think everyone longs to hear. They weren't just proud of me having accomplishments, I think anyone has those. They were proud because they know my accomplishments are rooted in the work of helping others. Not everyone does that.


We took pictures, ate, laughed, looked at photos from my childhood, and at the end of the night talked about coming together more often. While we celebrated the love of family I got to share my passion with others there who want to make a difference in the lives of children. Through this family gathering, God showed me firsthand how far I had come and that my life has true meaning - helping others.

The hood is still the same, there are plenty of challenges to overcome but God is raising up men and women so that the lives of children in the hood are changed. Going back home taught me something about dealing with adversity. It's difficult to go through struggles but it's a blessing to grow through struggles.