2002-2003 Academic Year

Alumnus Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

May 2003

Success. It should be measured in terms of Jesse Diaz. Not everyone can bounce back from a young life thrown off course by drugs and the constant temptations of gang life.

But succeed he did. And now the 39-year-old father of four children hopes to give something back to his community.

Jesse graduated from Pitzer College in 2002 after developing his own major in Chicano psychology. He worked closely with Pitzer professors Hal Fairchild, Jose Calderon and Norma Rodriguez and is currently a graduate student at UC Riverside. This spring, Jesse was awarded a Minority Fellowship from the American Sociological Association. He plans to use the funds to continue his pursuit of a PhD.

Jesse's research at Pitzer centered on contemporary issues of Chicanos, in particular the influence of gang members in communities much like Chino, where he grew up. Jesse recently helped form a coalition for social justice and action at UC Riverside to serve as an advocate for a young boy accused of murder. According to Jesse, the boy is innocent and many members of the community know who pulled the trigger, though they fear for their lives if they report the shooter.

It's a common refrain from Jesse. Gangs exert tremendous pressures on the community. But Jesse says he thinks he's found an answer to the problem.

Traditional approaches to the study of gangs and attempts to rehabilitate gang members often have relied on data collected in state institutions where, Jesse said, the information can be skewed because of the hard-core attitudes of prisoners. In such one-on-one situations, gang members continue to play the part they are expected to play - filling the role of the "street tough."

What Jesse found through his research is that in communities overrun by gangs and their negative influence, many of the gang members are family oriented and that though families can play a large role in rehabilitation, the community can play an even larger role.

Jesse's proposal calls for "block therapy." The community, acting as a larger family association, would hold forums and other events to address the problems caused by gangs. The community would call upon older gang members, previously thought to be destructive elements in their neighborhoods, to act as mentors and guides for younger gang members. These veterans, as they are called after surviving years of involvement in gangs, would bring invaluable insight to the process of discouraging gang life.

Jesse knows about the value of community. He credits the Pitzer community with being "my beacon, my guiding light. Students at Pitzer go on to become advocates and voices for a mix of people. The training at Pitzer is the key to success not only for students but for the people they serve through such programs as the Pomona Day Labor Center."

"My drive for an education and the positive experiences I had at Pitzer replaced the need I had to do drugs," Jesse said. "And now that I have the education I'm going to use it to reach out to others. Already I've helped model programs in Riverside after our successful programs at Pitzer."

It's just a matter of time before Jesse succeeds in this newest endeavor.