I remember being excited to move into the West Loop with the opportunity to serve at-risk youth in my city. Growing up in Chicago I faced many difficulties that involved gun and gang violence, immigration, poverty, drugs, and police harassment. Due to those difficulties, I never ventured out of my comfort zone on the east side of Little Village. During my first few weeks living in the West Loop, I was looking forward to exploring downtown Chicago. I remember attending the Taste of Chicago as a community which was my first time ever going! As we were concluding our fun day, we all noticed a crowd of people chanting “Black Lives Matter!” followed by “what do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Many of my community members walked around the crowd but I found it hard to ignore the march and decided to participate. A couple of my community members joined me. That was a day to remember.

Throughout my MercyWorks year, I challenged my community to get to know their youth but most importantly be an advocate for them. That day defined what I was passionate about and exposed a part of myself to my community. It marked the beginning of creating a safe space to build dialogue and have conversations about the injustices in our country.

“I challenge myself every day to carry out social justice in hopes that one day we will live in a peaceful environment.”

After MercyWorks, I was recruited by my childhood mentor, Benjamin Estrada, to work for New Life Centers of Chicagoland. I was hired as a Street Outreach Worker/Mentor where I have the honor of representing and being a voice for high-risk youth in Little Village. I specifically mentor and work with a population that’s often ignored due to gang affiliation. The misunderstood bunch. Many of these young men have the potential to do great things with their lives but they are often judged and left for dead simply because of their appearance. I spend my time working with them on creating goals, finding employment, actively listening, praying, providing, encouraging, finding school opportunities, creating peace, and exploring Chicago together. I’ve enjoyed seeing the youth grow in their spirituality and build a relationship where they trust enough to be vulnerable. It’s been a privilege to be a witness to their growth despite other people’s negative opinions of them.

Outside of mentoring, I am responsible for attending crises that often lead to death in my community. This is the most difficult part. In times of need I am responsible for attending to the victim and the family’s needs. Most importantly, praying for them and walking with them during a challenging time. I am grateful to have inspiring mentors and a supportive team who has taught me that. Social justice is more than creating a fair space and equality. Social justice is loving your neighbor, challenging yourself to listen to a new perspective and checking your privilege. I challenge myself every day to carry out social justice in hopes that one day we will live in a peaceful environment.

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