Sunday, July 17, 2011

Becoming a father

The following is written by one of our Homeboys, Armando, who is an assistant to the development department and facilitator of the "becoming fathers" class. A word of caution: some strong language and heavy content.

My name is Armando Ruiz. Like most homeboys I come from a dysfunctional family. My mother was a drug lover and my dad died when I was 6 years old from an overdose. I have 4 sister & 3 brothers. I’m the oldest son outta 8. When I was 7 years old we where taken away from my mom because she had a substance abuse problem. In that first year of foster care my siblings and I went to 8 foster homes. After that year we landed in my last foster home.

I was raised different than people think a kid should be raised. At the age of 8 I was told to stand in front of the Bronx Zoo and sell one dollar balloons. I worked an 8-10 hour day for the most part $25 a day. Life for me was different. I was also called names for my skin color. Im a brown boy living in a white house. They called me black monkey. I was raised feeling like shit because I was not white like the family in the house.

I ran away from that house many times during my teen years. I thought I could raise myself. Unfortunately I was too young in the eyes of the state. (New York State). Life during these years was hard for me. Everyday I was told to fight for the family, the same family which called me racial slurs. I was filled with so much anger I saw each fight as a chance to gain the family’s love and approval, which never happened.

During my high school years I hated the world. I was in a gang in school. I felt if the house would not love me, so the hood, homies would respect me and fear me. I always saw drug money as my way out of the hood. However that’s not what happened. The house told me I had to work for my money. They did not want to buy me any clothes. So I became a drug dealer to buy things I needed.

Life was unlike what I thought it should be. Life was not something that I enjoyed. It was something I thought god gave us to discipline us. During the few years after high school I became a drug user and alcoholic. I could not go one day without a substance in my body. Life was not fun. It was pain.

Two years I got hit by a car. I was put into a coma for a month and now have metal in my leg from my knee to a few inches above my ankle. I got hit during one of my drunken nights out. During my stay in the hospital I cried and wept for what my life have become. I asked god to help me and to grant me a kid. I told him I need a kid and I would be different than my parents. One year later I was blessed with a son, who I named Elijah Armando Ruiz.

Homeboy Industries is helping me become the father I want to become. I started working at Homeboy when my son was one month old. During that time I felt the need for a job and was in a tight spot. I thought about gang banging and dealing drugs but I would remember that night I cried in the hospital and asked god for my son.

I want my son to never go through what I when through in life. I want my son to become whatever he wants to become. I do want him to become a college grad. I want his work history to start after college, not during his elementary school years. I want him to know that his dad loves him no matter what color he is. I will always love him. I want so much for my son. I want my son simply to be happy, drug and alcohol free.classes I enrolled in at Homeboy was Baby & Me. I felt I needed the class to help me learn how to handle a kid. I then enrolled in the parenting class, simply because it was a parenting class. I did not have a parent to teach me how to do so. The classes here have helped me become a father on the path to becoming an important part of his kids life.

Armando and his son, Elijah

Now through Homeboy I teach a class called Becoming Fathers. The reason I started this class is because I saw a need for a class which will help homies like me who want to change from being just a baby daddy to a real father. I'm not saying I know it all. I feel it is hard for me (a person that really wants to change) and maybe its harder for other homies. I feel I can help other homies make that change in their life. Most homies come from fatherless homes and they don’t want their home to be like that. Fatherless kids find support in the streets doing unlawful things.

Homeboy Industries has helped me more then I can say. I don’t know what else to say. Thank you Father G (G DOGG) and Homeboy Industries.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer and family

It's difficult to understand what it takes to leave a gang. Deciding to walk away from a lifestyle that leads only to violence should be easy, we think, but we may forget that this also means leaving the friends, family, even the neighborhood that you've always known. Herein lies what may be the hardest task facing those who come to Homeboy Industries: divorcing themselves from the people and places that have, until now, been home.

This fundamental shift, "having to throw out the phonebook," as one homegirl put it, is why the community of kinship at Homeboy is so important. Many of our employees spend time together on the weekends, or bring their kids to the events that work makes available (we're always thrilled when baseball tickets show up) because it's simply not safe for them to be around their old friends or family. For other homies, free time consists of not leaving the house all too much.

Last Friday, Homeboy held our 9th annual family picnic- a frenetic, happy day in the park right behind Dodger Stadium. It was a few hours for our employees to have a real gathering, a safe congregation of young people and their children, a snapshot of rest and fun in the steady, slow work toward a better life.