In Do It Anyway (Beacon Press, 2010), author Courtney E. Martin looks at the work and lives of eight activists who are striving to make a difference in their communities and the world. Among others, we meet Raul Diaz, a prison re-entry social worker at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.
Diaz recorded this video to explain what Homeboy Industries does and why he works there. (Watch video below or at YouTube.)
Mother Jones magazine recently ran an adapted excerpt about Diaz from Do It Anyway.
Raul Diaz is crushing flowers underfoot as he runs. Though he doesn't have the stamina of his teenage years, he's grateful that his legs can still take him up a hill at thirty-four. He pauses at the top of a slope in Elysian Park, puts his hands on his hips, and looks out at Los Angeles, the city that has formed him in all of its beauty and violence. He can almost make out the outlines of Boyle Heights, his courageous little neighborhood—just east of downtown L.A. and the Los Angeles River, César E. Chávez Avenue rolling boldly through.
Up here Raul can get a break from life down there—the way the boys drag their feet as they head back to their cells in Chino when his visits with them are over, the sadly predictable swollen bellies on teenage girls hanging out in the project playground, the incessant needs of his clients (housing, jobs, work clothes, car insurance, food), unmet unless he figures out a way to meet them. He runs up here because it's a way to leave all that behind. But even more, he runs up here because he has never figured out any other way of staving off the sadness.
The youngest of eight brothers, Raul was raised by one firecracker mom who fled an abusive husband, the father of her six initial sons, in Texas and relocated to the Pico projects of Boyle Heights without a single friend in 1968. In the early seventies, she met Raul's father—a Vietnam vet—who would end up shirking responsibility for his two kids. By the time Raul was five years old, his father was mostly absent, with the exception of a few random Saturdays when he would pull into the parking lot of the projects and start drinking. On those days he might show one of the boys how to fix a car or give them advice about girls, but Raul mostly stayed away.
"Don't get me wrong," he says. "I wanted a dad, but I realized that not having a dad at all was sometimes better than having one that abused you."
Courtney E. Martin is a senior correspondent for the American Prospect and an editor of Feministing.com. A 2002 recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, she is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, coauthor of The Naked Truth, and coeditor of Click. Her work frequently appears in the Christian Science Monitor, Alternet, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn. The following is from a post on Alternet adapted from her new book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.
Save the world.
Where were you the first time you heard those three little words?
It’s a phrase that has slipped off the tongues of hippie parents and well-intentioned teachers with a sort of cruel ease for the last three decades. In Evangelical churches and Jewish summer camps, on 3-2-1 Contact and Dora the Explorer, even on MTV, we (America’s youth) have been charged with the vaguest and most ethically dangerous of responsibilities: save the world. But what does it really mean? What has it ever really meant -- when uttered by moms and ministers, by zany aunts and debate coaches -- to save the whole wildly complex, horrifically hypocritical, overwhelmingly beautiful world?
Social scientists and the media seems to have made an ugly habit in the last few years of labeling my generation as entitled, self absorbed, and apathetic. Psychologist Jean M. Twenge argues that, largely because of the boom in self-esteem education in the '80s and '90s, young people today “speak the language of the self as their native tongue,” in her book Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Tom Friedman dubbed us Generation Q for quiet in the pages of The New York Times,
writing, “Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good,
and for the country’s own good.” And morning shows can’t resist a
segment on how entitled Gen Y is in the workplace and what their bosses
can do to tame their positively gargantuan egos.
I think they’ve
got it wrong. They’re missing a class analysis. And they’ve mistaken
symptoms for the disease. We are not, on the whole, entitled, self
absorbed, and apathetic. We’re overwhelmed, empathic, and paralyzed. The
privileged among us, are told over and over that it is our charge to
“save the world,” but once in it, we realize that it’s not so simple.
The less privileged are gifted their own empty rhetoric -- American
Dream ideology that charges them with, perhaps not necessarily saving
the whole damn world, but at the very least saving their families, their
countries, their honor. We are the most educated, most wanted, most
diverse generation in American history, and we are also the most
conscious of complexity.Read the rest at Alternet.