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Mothers unite to put end to gang violence
Group hopes to make a difference
When Mary Martinez lost her son Frank on April 8, 2003 to gang violence, she decided she had to do something to end the problem.
Unfortunately, her something was to found a group that would remain mostly dormant, waiting for the time when it would find its wings. That time came earlier this year, after nearly nine years to the day of her son’s death, when Martinez reached out to another mother to give Mothers United Against Gang Violence the lift it needed to fly.
“God put it in my heart that we stand up and speak at out,” Martinez said of her group, which remains the only women’s organization in Porterville devoted to ending the gang problem.
Martinez says that she sees too many chances in today’s society for children, both male and female, to get “lost” because of problems at home, like divorce or death.
“Sometimes kids make bad choices, fall in with bad influences and are pressured into gangs,” Martinez said. “Having lost my youngest son, it’s painful. I want us to help by sharing our testimonials.”
Frank was the youngest of three. His older brother, Joe, went into the military and has just recently returned from Afghanistan. His older sister, Emelina, works in the medical field and was a part of Leadership Porterville class of 2006.
Francisco, unfortunately, did not find his way as easily as his brother and sister, his mother said, and his death was tragic because it came after he’d started to turn his life around. He’d belonged to a gang while he was a teenager, but at the age of 25 he’d made and effort to become a new person by moving to Salinas to be closer to his mother, getting a job and starting to go to school to become a paramedic. The only reason he was in town that day was to visit his daughter, who Martinez credit’s as the reason he cleaned up his life.
“I hadn’t wanted him to come back,” Martinez said. However, Frank decided to do so because his daughter had been admitted to Sierra View District Hospital with pneumonia.
He unfortunately wore a red shirt that day, which is why he was targeted by four men, members of a gang who thought he was in a rival gang. They engaged him in a fight in front of Castillo’s Auto Repair, and eventually fatally shot him.
Martinez’s daughter, Emelina, has been as outspoken as her mother in terms of trying to end the violence, and has tried very hard to be open to questions and discussion of the problem.
“I don’t want parents to be afraid to come and ask questions,” she said, noting that her own mother’s efforts to form the group had inspired her to join Leadership Porterville so she could visit Porterville schools and speak to students.
“If you can just reach one child, you’ve done something good,” she said.
Now, Martinez has high hopes that Mothers United will find a permanent location in Porterville, offer counseling and information on tattoo removal programs, as well as opportunities for former gang members to find jobs, perhaps helping the elderly. She also wants the office to become a memorial to those who have died of gang violence in Porterville by decorating the walls with their pictures and history. In the long term, Martinez’s biggest goal is to see Mothers United spread to other cities.
“I think we can inspire other mothers to take a stand against gang violence,” Martinez said.
Martinez hasn’t done everything on her own. She was advised earlier this year to enlist the help of Linda Hinojosa, who works at Pioneer Middle School, and has been a part of Tough Love and Porterville Youth Incorporated in the past. More importantly, Hinojosa said, she knows what its like to be the troubled youth that ends up in a gang. Until the age of 21, when her mother moved her from Southern California to Porterville, she was in a gang and knows how easy it is to slip into that life.
“Kids are being born into this,” Hinojosa said. She said, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of coveting what other’s have, and either praying on the weak by stealing or using them for their things. Growing up desperate can easily take a good child and turn him or her into a bully, Hinojosa said. However, Hinojosa also said that with the right attitude, a mother can put their child back on the right path.
“As long as you have a nurturing mother,” Hinojosa said, everything can turn out alright. Her own mother gave her an ultimatum to continue walking the path she had chosen, or leave their home for a new chance. At 21, Hinojosa chose to move to Porterville, and now says this move was the best thing her mother ever did for her. She felt like she was moving to Green Acres when she saw her first glimpse of the Valley from the Grapevine. Things have changed a lot since then, Hinojosa says, as the violent world her mother moved her from has also moved to Porterville. Worse, both Hinojosa and Martinez say, is the continued denial of this fact in Porterville
“The Council says there is not a gang problem,” Martinez said. “But there is and it is serious.” She did say Council member Cam Hamilton has been supportive of the group.
Martinez contacted Hinojosa in March, Hinojosa said, and by April they were putting on their first event and reaching out to other mothers who had lost children to gangs.
“These mothers were just surfacing,” Hinojosa said, describing how they were able to get new members and start making connections around town. “Doors have just been flying open.”
They began to organize and meet at the library. Later, through networking, the group picked up support from Franklin & Associates, which helped it gain its non-profit status. Now the group is being helped by Victory Outreach Church, which is providing it with the use of the church for a free for the group’s first large event, a free community workshop which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 29 at Victory Outreach.
Hinojosa said the workshop will host guest speaker Jose Montenegro from Los Angeles who will speak on disengaging youth from gangs, and Jeff Osbourne, who will help parents address drug or attitude problems in their children. Men and women from the PAAR program will be there, as well as family’s of the victims of gang violence, to provide testimonials to show how the actions of one person can have long-term consequences not only on their life but on the lives of others. Martinez encourages parents to bring all their children, not just those who are currently struggling.
“You get enough of these people telling you [about their lives],” Hinojosa said of the speakers from the PAAR center, “it’s going to make a difference.”
Hinojosa says that members of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Family Healthcare Network, and some groups from Visalia that help pregnant teenagers will be present. The Porterville Community Church will be providing food for the event, and React will provide security.