Gang members have leadership skills, do you agree?

Gang members have leadership skills, do you agree?

An article I recently read titled A New Recipe for School Design by Cesar A. Cruz, caught my eye for a couple of reasons.   First, I am always interested in outside the box ways to educate youth.  Second, this sentence, ”What if when we caught a young man selling drugs at school, instead of sending him to the principal’s office, we sent him to Harvard Business School?” grabbed my attention and didn’t let go.

Outside the Box Concept

No, Cesar isn’t suggesting we reward young people for selling drugs!   He is, however, suggesting that we look at what skills and talents these young people have and guide them to using their skills and talents for things that are beneficial for the community.  We tend to write these kind of young people off and try to avoid them. Cesar has jumped right in and said, “Let’s help them make the most of their business skills.” in a safe and beneficial way for the community.   Sounds like a win-win to me!

What Do We Know?

Cesar has done a lot of research.  For the last year, he has traveled across the country seeking out students who are struggling in school, recent drop-outs, and gang members to find out what their dream school would look like.  Makes sense to me, ask the people you are trying to help be successful.

Cesar makes a strong case for understanding what benefits some youth get from a gang. They are the same benefits that other youth might find from belonging to an organization like the Girl Scouts.  They get a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a mentor, rites of passages and a place they think is cool.  Really youth need a sense of self and belonging to grow and this can happen in different ways.

How Can We Support Positive Leadership?

Here are the six things that Cesar is focusing on as he works towards building his Homies Empowerment School:

  1. Culture as healing.Help them see that their roots/culture is just as valuable as anyone else’s.   It supports their sense of purpose.
  2. Understanding their desire to be independent and helping them to transition to adulthood.
  3. Care management. Helping students meet their own needs whether it is basic survival or self-discovery and resilience.
  4. Exploring careers, not jobs.Exploration of possible career paths, provide paid internships for that exploration.
  5. Self‑expression through the arts.Give young people space to find their voice and develop their talents.
  6. Physical movement as healing.Self-care through sports and developing team unity.  Help them to recognize the power they have in their minds and bodies.

If you want to read a fascinating story about Cesar and his dream to “Empower Homies”- Not Demonize Them, check out more here.