Away from the gang
After the adult-specific ” read, more blunt ” portion of the talk, North Tahoe middle schoolers and high schoolers started filing back into the Kings Beach Elementary School’s gym at the time that the parents, counselors and sheriff’s deputies told them to.
School was over and they had already heard what Joey Ray Lucero was going to say, and chances are what he was saying sounded similar to what their parents have told them before: Don’t fall to peer pressure, be clean, do the right thing.
But the students were back, and Joey Ray was not their parents. Nor was he a member of the Mexican Mafia; not anymore at least.
Until he quit, Lucero, 28, was a third-generation gang member raised by drug-abusing parents in Southern California. He said he learned early that if he just shut up in certain situations and did not say anything, he could not incriminate himself or anyone else.
He bowed his closely shaven head and showed the parents and law enforcement in the gymnasium the scar left from a car that had hit him, twice, in an attempt to kill him. Lucero told the story, with difficulty, of the time his father suggested he should kill the person who betrayed him.
“Since I was little I was told I was going to be just like my dad. What little boy doesn’t want to be like his dad?” Lucero asked. “In the back of my heart I had dreams. I wanted to play football. I wanted to work at the San Diego Zoo.
“I was doing the best I could as a young man to fit in.”
Lucero wasn’t just offering war stories from the street when he was a boy. The 28 year old, who still describes himself as a kid, had just flown in from the National Summit on Violence where he was the keynote speaker on the importance of gang intervention.
That’s why he was in the Kings Beach Elementary gym ” to speak as long and to whomever asked a question of him. Earlier on Monday he’d made the rounds to every North Tahoe Middle School classroom, speaking with nearly 450 middle and high school students and faculty.
Arrested at age 12 for a murder, which he says he did not commit, Lucero spent six years in the California Youth Authority. The CYA is now joined with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“I didn’t kill him, but I couldn’t tell them who did,” Lucero told the silent audience. “I never had a winter formal, didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 25 ” the things I missed out on. Shame on me.”
Now an outreach coordinator and motivational speaker for the rehabilitative nonprofit Homeboy Industries, Lucero is sought out to talk with communities on the dangers and pressures gangs elicit. He was in North Lake Tahoe upon an invitation from Diana Cristales-David.
He spoke of turning the other cheek, of setting a positive example for one’s friends if they are not doing right. Lucero stressed the importance of thinking for one’s self, of education and of having hope.
“Everything is not stacked up against you,” Lucero said. “You just have to learn the steps.”
His advice for an area that feels the hands of gangs tugging at them? Sports, for one, but at heart, community.
“I think what you guys are doing here is great,” Lucero said, looking out at the 70 plus crowd Monday evening. “Look at the numbers. You guys have a community.”