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."