The things that matter

Looking retrospectively, I have had the honor of being lectured by some of the most competent, innovative and resilient minds in the field of peacebuilding and conflict-management. And, while I had enjoyed each and every single one of those, there was something very different, very peculiar about the lecture held by Willie R. Stokes that struck me in a way that no other had. Maybe it was because his approach had no restriction or hesitation; his introduction turned out to be a raw and bewildering description of his life and circumstances that completely caught me off guard. Willie use to be a member of the infamous gang “ Nostra Familia”, but, unlike many others, found himself grabbing for a second chance, a different way of being, and dropped out of the gang. What went through my head the whole lecture was the tendency of the general public to assign brands to people ( like gang member or terrorist or immigrant), which has helped in creating this divide of us and “the other”, the latter being anyone not fitting our norms and values,  which results in excluding them from “our society”. Yet, rarely do people realize the whole causal relationship that stands behind actions.

So while I looked at Willie, and listened to his story, I kept thinking about how many children are out there, who find themselves growing up in the same disadvantaged circumstances and I cannot see there being many other ways for them to end up. Yet, while I was always aware of this, how impoverished economic conditions, absence of the “family cushion” of support and love, and the instability of the future lead to gang membership, violence, drugs etc., this story brought back a face to the statistics and the theory that I had studied before. Here I found a man standing before me, a man who has been surrounded by death and destruction a great deal of his life, and yet he was more positive and hopefully and inspiring that anyone I had met before. When he told us, me : “You never know what you can do”, it is the first time that I had not just brushed it off as another person pretending to have faith in a bunch of strangers, but as a man that has proved it and is simply sharing it with a bunch of bookish children imagining they can change the world by reading a few books.

Yet, at the end of the day, Willie also said: “Don’t think you can’t do it just because you don’t have the right background”. So, maybe we are not that starry eyed to engage this big dysfunctional world, full of irrational beings, illogical events and confusing behaviors, and make it just a tad bit better than its former self.