“Why don’t you join my gang?”
StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the Windy City to record stories of teachers, staff members, and students at EPIC Academy Charter High School. The school’s student body consists of teens living in South Chicago. EPIC prepares their students for college and beyond through a rigorous and diverse curriculum. The school can be challenging, especially for students dealing with difficult issues in their personal lives.
Despite this, teachers and staff still expect the best of their students because some of them know well what their students deal with at home. During our three days with EPIC, Dean of Students Danny Rivera sat down with his coworker, Andre Golston, to talk about the obstacles he faced growing up in Chicago.
Danny’s family suffered from dysfunctional behavior exacerbated by alcoholism, drug abuse, and gang activity. Many times there was little or no food in the house, and Danny often missed school. Because of his behavior, Danny’s family kicked him out of the house when he was very young, and with no place to go, he joined a local gang. In his interview, he told Andre that “there are a lot of reasons why kids join gangs, but my reason is that I needed to survive. I needed a roof over my head and a meal everyday. They provided that for me. They did more for me than my family.” However, in exchange for meals and housing, Danny was beholden to the gang and asked to do whatever they needed him to.
For many years, Danny believed that gang life was the only option for him until a high school teacher posed a question to him. As Danny remembers, “He told me ‘You’re not going to make it in life, doing what you’re doing. I know you’re involved with street gangs. Why don’t you join my gang?’” The ‘gang’ to which the teacher referred was the United States Army. With his teacher’s help, Danny was able to join the military and slowly cut his ties with gang activity.
It has been ten years since that teacher pulled Danny aside and presented him with an alternative future. Now, Danny spends his days providing choices for the students at EPIC Academy, so they can make the most of their educations and lives.
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