From Street Fighter to Nonviolence Advocate: Carlos Cruz

To commemorate Hispanics in Philanthropy’s 33rd year, we honored 33 Latino leaders who inspire as our 2017 HIPGivers. Read HIPGiver Carlos Cruz’s story below.

Carlos Cruz, President and co-founder of Cauce Ciudadano in Mexico, grew up on mean streets and eventually, out of pain, found resilience and transformation. As an agent of change, he has dedicated his life to youth development, getting gangbangers to build processes for peace, and teaching youngsters to eschew violence in and out of school.

He and his nonprofit equip youths to improve their community through healthy living; respect for human rights, including gender rights; group projects; going to school peacefully, resilience and having the right to change.

“I give entrances to those who can’t find exits and exits for those who can’t find entrances,” is how Cruz sums up his work.

“We’re changing how people behave,” he said, adding that Cauce Ciudadano reaches 69 municipalities in Mexico. Cruz said it operates various violence prevention programs in Mexico City, Morelos, Queretaro, Monterrey, Juarez, San Luis Potosi, Oaxaca and Tlaxcala, among others.

“One has to work to keep that violence away tomorrow,” said Cruz, for whom the violent loss of a friend, along with his own mother’s teachings about giving and receiving love, were pivotal in changing his life. He received training at the International Institute of Leadership, which was founded by Israel’s labor federation.

In many cases, we seem very small, but like streams of water that come together and break the streets, we have a lot of energy. To dignify the lives of our mothers and daughters is urgent for the world, in our homes and in our neighborhoods.

Cruz, who fondly recalls helping his father to create a park before the lad turned to his life of crime, co-founded Cauce Ciudadano largely to stop youth violence in 2001. Along with other delinquents-turned-peacemakers, he built the Aprendiendo a Vivir (Learning to Live) community development center to thwart the lure of street gangs and other risky activities.

Later, Cruz partnered with civil sector and corporate programs to get transitional services and jobs for more than 400 marginalized women and their families. Through a civil sector-government partnership, he also helped to implement a prevention of gender-based violence program that reaches more than 65,000 students a year.

Then, in 2010, he founded the Retoño program for the prevention of organized delinquency. The Retoño Network now works with crime victims and perpetrators, and through crime prevention public policy projects in 16 of Mexico’s 31 states.

Cruz says that, ultimately, Latin America will need a clearer vision of its common problems.

“. . . I can’t do my full work, if we don’t tackle the issue of corruption. There’s a need to find justice. We have to look at ourselves to solve the idea that you need revenge; let’s transform the conflict.

Feeling inspired? Read fellow HIPGiver Narciso Contreras’s story and let the uplifting vibes continue!

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