The Denver Post
Daniel "Nane" Alejandrez arrived in Denver on Tuesday and spent Wednesday sitting in a wing-back chair fielding questions from Dr. Vincent Harding and his daughter, Rachel. Have you met Dr. Harding? Alejandrez asks me.
At that point, I hadn't even met Alejandrez, who has a national reputation for his three decades of work with youth involved in gangs, in the life of the street that supplants the life of the soul. "The madness that destroys our youth," Alejandrez calls it.
He'll be speaking Friday night at 6:30 at Su Teatro on Seventh Avenue at Santa Fe. Admission is free.
"You have to meet Dr. Harding," Alejandrez says. "He's a great man."
Harding was friend and speechwriter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He's now professor emeritus of religion and social transformation at Iliff School of Theology. Twelve years ago, he started the Veterans of Hope project. It revolves around in-depth interviews with key leaders, thinkers and activists in civil-rights movements past and present.
"When Dr. Harding called me and said he wanted me to be one of his veterans, I almost had tears in my eyes," Alejandrez says. "Do you know who some of these veterans are? I go, 'Man, why does he want to interview me?' "
This kind of reaction, it turns out, is fairly typical of Alejandrez. It suggests neither false modesty nor a lack of belief in his own work but rather that, after all these years, he still sees himself as a student. Of human nature,
gang dynamics, economics, history. To a community that might say to him, "We don't know how to stop the madness," he will answer: "I didn't know how either, and I still don't. But I'm looking for the answers, and I keep looking." The question that leads me to seek out Alejandrez is one he really can't answer to my satisfaction. This may be because I don't work daily with troubled youth. I don't visit prison yards and attempt to get rival gangs to join an indigenous dance (and so I miss the triumphant moment when they do, hands linked, feet shuffling to beating drums). I do not coordinate peace summits between brown and black gangs. Instead, I drop into neighborhoods where I am sometimes overcome by how entrenched the poverty is and how isolated its youth are, by the defiance masking a sense of inferiority that is only reinforced outside the neighborhood.
It may be because I don't have his life experience. Alejandrez is the child of migrant workers. He spent years in the fields with his parents. "You know when school lets out for the summer and kids say, 'What camp are you going to?' That was my camp." He writes of watching his father humble himself, eyes lowered, shoulders bowed, before "the boss man." His father drowned that swallowed pride in alcohol.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Denver Post