Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Emmy-winning actor Edward James Olmos delivered a sweeping and powerful address in Salinas today, from breaking down the allure and definition of gangs to offering practical solutions to the county’s number one crime problem.
Early in his speech at a Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County fundraiser, Olmos touched on recent gang violence in Salinas that has left six dead in a little over two weeks.
He issued a stark warning: “It’s not going to get better. Just the opposite. It’s going to become more intense,” he said pointing to the estimated 5,300 drug cartel-related murders in Mexico in the first 11 months of last year.
“Violence is being bred. It doesn’t come out of us naturally. Nobody comes out of the womb violent and hating. It’s a learned behavior.”
Olmos, a longtime Chicano activist and star of Battlestar Galactica, said the self esteem and self respect instilled by the Boys and Girls Club is the antidote to violence. “If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club I wouldn’t have the self esteem, self respect and self worth that I have today,” he said.
Olmos grew up in gang-saturated east Los Angeles. He said Boys and Girls Club staff helped him learn to think, recalling how excited he was when he figured out a numbers puzzle.
While the after-school program worked for him, he also highlighted LA-based Homeboy Industries, which turns at-risk youth into entrepreneurs. “If you give an opportunity for a kid to work—even if they don’t make as much selling drugs—they will take it because they want to have a life,” Olmos said.
Olmos then tested the audience, which included Salinas and county elected officials and Police Chief Dan Ortega, on how they define gangs. He asked the audience if they part of the “Catholic religion gang” or if they were “Protestant gang members.”
Police define gangs as two or more people wearing similar clothes who do a criminal act, Olmos said. But he added everyone at the event was part of a gang, from bowling leagues to poker buddies. “The only difference is that you don’t do criminal acts so the police department doesn’t call you a gang.” He emphasized that everyone wants to be part of a family and yearns belonging. “Our kids will always be part of gangs. The boys club is a gang of kids. It’s being part of something.”
Olmos implored the audience not to turn their backs on gang members. “Every kid that is in a gang should be here,” he said, receiving a roar of applause. “They will not be good kids when they step out the door but for…two to three hours they are not doing something negative.”
Toward the end of his speech Olmos pledged $5,000 for the county Boys and Girls Clubs and inspired another man to match his pledge.
Lastly, touching on President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, he warned that the challenges facing the country and Salinas will not be easily overcome. But Olmos found some optimism in eight years of the Bush Administration. “It took George W. Bush to give us Obama,” he said.
For more information or to donate to the Boys and Girls Clubs visit www.bgcmc.org