One wounded in Barrio Logan shooting
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Military family seeking medical help crashes into barrier of Naval hospital
Autopsy report calls fatal wrong-way crash that killed 2 police detectives an accident
Rough waters ahead as Mountain West basketball season begins
Metropolitan, North County transit districts offer free rides to combat impaired driving on New Year’s Eve
Residents, businesses have a trash-filled holiday during strike
As New Year’s Eve arrives, San Diego hits an all-time single-day COVID-19 case record
San Diego’s eight days of rain end with a whimper instead of the expected bang
Off-road motorcyclist killed in crash with big rig in Ocotillo Wells
Nunez is director of community relations at STAR/PAL and lives in Southeast San Diego.
In 1994, at the young age of 15, I found myself in what seemed to be a never-ending cycle of gang violence, drugs and trauma. I was innocently ignorant of the fact that gang violence and drugs were not the norm for many teens my age. Since gang violence was standard when growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood, I knew no different.
Drugs were an income for many or a medication that was easily accessible without the need of a doctor’s visit. Growing up in the 1990s, the mentality, the lifestyle and the unwritten rules were directives you lived by as you were trying to survive and maintain a level of normalcy in the real world.
Often my generation was looked down upon and labeled as gang members, drug addicts, dropouts and a menace to society. Although there may be some truth to those labels, the root of those behaviors were never explored. Truth be told, many were generational gang members with many of their family members a part of the gang culture. Many were born with drugs in their system before they even took their first breath. For some, dropping out of school was easier than trying to catch up after missing so much school due to babysitting the younger siblings. While some saw us as a menace, we were trying to survive just to make it another day. Death was something we were too familiar with.
In those times, growing up to see your 18th birthday was a true blessing. Although drive-by shootings were forbidden, the spread of gunfire was heard regularly. Makeshift altars, broken families and retaliation was part of that lifestyle. The never-ending cycle of violence continued in conjunction with new laws such as Proposition 21, approved in 2000, which allowed — and sometimes even required — prosecutors to charge 14-year-olds as adults. It seemed as if there was no way out but in a casket or in a jail cell, where sadly many youngsters did end up. Some passed away. Others were incarcerated. But either way, they lost their lives. Then there were those of us who made it out and can speak on it.
It’s not one person or one conversation that leads to change. For me, there were many personal factors.
Doing something about it now is my purpose. Understanding that lifestyle, the culture and the changes of the new generations is paramount in providing that opportunity to the ones who are seen as the “at-risk” teens, the “disenfranchised” population, the youth who just need another chance. I understood that concept while attending an alternative school — Juvenile Court and Community Schools, which is run by the San Diego Office of Education.
I finished my high school years there and graduated in 1996, and I knew that helping youth who needed extra support was something that I wanted to do. My career has since expanded from working in education as a teacher’s assistant in the Juvenile Court and Community Schools program to working in prevention in the nonprofit sector to working in suppression for the Probation Department. My career has been dedicated to helping parents, teachers and law enforcement better understand and serve this population.
I have used my lived experience to do this work, but I have also furthered my education. I have an associate of arts degree in child development, a bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice with a minor in human services and a master’s degree in psychology focused on human behavior.
I have used my college education to understand the foundation of behaviors, but I have also used it to give me a chance. I have very visible tattoos that historically have not gotten me in the door, but all I needed was someone to give me a chance. Now, my degree, references and experience open the door. My tattoos and past life are no longer the focus. If I could, I would change some of my past decisions, but my trials and tribulations have made me who I am today and that is something I would not change. I am grateful for being here today and in memory of all the young lives who were lost to gangs and drugs, the second chances shall continue.
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