I’ve had the honor, these past few months, of being part of the neighborhood’s first formal re-socialization program in Casco Viejo, aimed at taking former gang members and empowering them to live better, more responsible lives.
One of my personal tasks in the project was a young man named Humberto, who struggled with a harsh childhood and several learning disabilities.
Only 20 years old and tattooed from head to toe, Humberto’s weaknesses were the perfect target of the Esperanza program and it evolved as my job to coach him personally throughout the process.
To instill some discipline, Humberto and I started a vigorous crossfit regimen at 6:30 every day at Alley Cat Fitness. Some mornings, as you might imagine, were more difficult than others.
Humberto and I held afternoon chats in the park over sodas as he shared with me the difficulty of losing a younger brother to gang violence, the validity of Jorge Dely Valdez’s coaching strategy, and how women’s breasts are always, unequivocally better than their buttocks.
We also got help from a speech and language specialist to address Humberto’s inability to read or write. And the support of the entire Esperanza Program’s staff whose patience was most certainly tested on a daily basis.
Throughout the process, it became clear to me that below his harsh exterior, Humberto was full of humility and the desire to learn and work and provide for himself. At the core of the program, this is what all the boys really want: a fair shot.
So when the graduation ceremony rolled around two weeks ago and Humberto was called up to receive his diploma, the tears most definitely started flowing as we hugged in what came to represent much more than just a friendship…
It represented very much the energy of a neighborhood: the transformation and integration of things old and new and the human element of…well…just helping each other out.
In retrospect, our tearful hug also represented the beginning of a work relationship for Humberto and I as well seeing that today, Humberto has been hired by Tulipanes as a Concierge apprentice…
He will be learning how to take care of a building from our team of mama gallinas, all of whom are incredibly, almost supernaturally enthusiastic about his transformation. The goal of this 3-month apprenticeship will be to get him his own building to manage when he is comfortable and ready.
When I walked into Tulipanes yesterday afternoon, I saw Humberto, in his pressed pants and slick Tulipanes polo shirt, sweeping the courtyard area and couldn’t help but conjure up the contrasting images of just one or two years ago: Humberto sitting on his stoop on Calle 4ta, selling drugs, moping about.
I’ll be posting updates below over the next few weeks and hope that you all can stop by to say Buenas Dias to our new family member!