My Name is Juan Pacheco, I used to be a gang member, now I work with at-risk youth, helping them transform their lives.
I am the Face of Peace.
My name is Juan Pacheco. I am a passionate advocate of nonviolence currently helping youth across the nation to find alternatives to the violence that affects their lives and their communities. Years back I was one of these youth, caught in the devastation that violence brings anyone or anything touched by its clutches. I was involved in youth violence that took away many things from me, including a scholarship, my freedom, and my best friend’s life. I joined because my community failed me in many ways and made me feel like a worthless outcast. As an immigrant to the USA, I faced the struggles of shaming poverty, community violence, racism, discrimination, bullying, inability to fit into the culture and community; the list goes on and on. I felt unwanted. I joined a gang because my community and environment did not allow me to “belong”.
|“I currently have the privilege of working with Barrios Unidos/United Neighborhoods.BU offers hope by teaching youth positive resiliency and by utilizing adults and older youth that have made it out of the “street life” and overcome the challenges young people face.”|
Gangs exist because communities fail to include, love, and protect their children and youth. Instead of helping youth who are involved in gangs, communities continue to mistreat them, hate them, and inflict similar violence toward these young people who just want to belong. For me, my gang was the only group to accept me as myself and hence, I made the choice to be part of this group regardless of the cost. Unfortunately, being a part of that family also meant being involved with violence. I would venture to say that this violence is the only bad thing about gangs because most everything else that a gang provides is what youth need from their families, schools, churches, neighborhoods, and communities.
In the world of violence I experienced much pain and suffering. After losing my friend and spending some time in jail, I was thankfully able to turn my life around. I did not make this change alone, I had vital help. Barrios Unidos — a movement of ex-gang members who now help youth choose alternatives for violence, came into my life and showed me another way to live, a more peaceful way to live. I currently have the privilege of working with Barrios Unidos/United Neighborhoods. BU offers hope by teaching youth positive resiliency and by utilizing adults and older youth that have made it out of the “street life” and overcome the challenges young people face. We work to assist youth in choosing life-affirming behavior, positive self-esteem, constructive goals, supportive community, and cultural pride. We also pro-actively reach out to families, schools, police and other existing institutions to provide support for at-risk youth. I am proud to spent part of my time working with Barrios Unidos, while also attending George Mason University to earn my pre-med degree!
I believe that dreams are worth fighting for, and my life has shown me that success is possible with the support of a loving network of peace warriors. My strategies for successful community and youth work come out of my own experiences as a gang member, a youth who had no one there to help me through my ordeals, and now I can be there for youth like me and help them turn their lives around. I was a gang member who now hopes to become a great physician. Others can do the same if given a chance.