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Changing the future for talented at-risk kids

January 17, 2010

Once, I made a friend by telling a lie.  My young friend Hugo was getting into small trouble and making the adults who love him worry about big trouble.  Hugo liked tagging, the urban rebel’s art form. I wanted him to see art in a broader way, a way less likely to get him arrested.  So I told a lie.

I took Hugo to see a great mural and I asked if he’d like to meet my friend the artist.  He said yes.

So I called Ruby Chacón.  I introduced myself, said I admired her work and her reputation in the community and confessed my lie.

Ruby turned out to be gracious, patient and kind.  In her studio, she showed Hugo her paintings and her fine art books.

She talked with him about art, about being Latino, about college.  Hugo was 13 then and Ruby was (and is) young and beautiful and wise.  I think he heard her in a way he could not hear me.

Years later Ruby and her husband Terry Hurst opened Mestizo Coffeehouse.  As near as I can tell, Mestizo is merely the backdrop for Ruby and Terry to do what they love, which is to make art and nurture young people.  Mestizo has a comfortable art gallery, serves delicious food and coffee and exudes a stay-all-day vibe.

While old people like me tap away on our laptops, meet clients for coffee or have lunch with friends, young people flit in and out, auras of passion encircling them.  They’re preparing a performance, staging a protest, planning a concert.  They’re doing and creating; they're becoming important adults, little by little.  At Mestizo no dream is too big or too romantic.  Nothing is ridiculous.

Perhaps Terry has drunk too much of this ethos.  On Sept. 23 he left home on a bike ride to raise money (I’ll just say it: to raise $5 million) to build a west-side art and community center, the not-for-profit Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts (MICA).

Terry’s a husband, father of a mostly-grown son and co-owner of a coffeehouse.  But day in and day out, he’s away on this journey to raise money for MICA.  He left with zero money and no cycling or fundraising experience, but he fully expects to raise the funds, even if he has to ask 5 million people to each give him one dollar.

On his blog (blog.fivemilliondollarfund.org), he writes vividly and well, describing what he sees.  He details the weather, the bike repairs, the free burritos and brownies.  Sometimes he quotes Neruda or Merwin, or mentions the work of Rodin.  Other times he’s nearly done in by loneliness and the staggering goal of his journey.  A recent entry reads in part:

"Everyone keeps asking about the adventure.  Many would like to take this adventure.  I want to build an institute.  The adventure is secondary to me.  I want to make a fundamental infrastructure change in our community where we establish institutions that look at our youth and [ethnic] communities as assets and solutions rather than liabilities and problems.  That’s what I want!  Pedaling is easy.  Waiting for people to get off their ass and do what needs to be done is hard."

I don’t know what made me go looking for Ruby when I had a Latino kid who needed direction, but it was the perfect thing.  Ruby and Terry have a special gift.  They take kids many people would send to jail and they send them to college.  Their audacious dream will benefit all of us.  I am happy to contribute.

You can learn more here:  youtube.com/watch?v=QSggB0S6J9U.

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Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.

 

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