A profound transformation story took center stage at an event aiming to address ongoing community violence in Stockton on Wednesday.
Art Blajos, once an assassin for the Mexican Mafia and death row inmate, shared his remarkable journey to becoming an evangelist at Stockton's Victory Outreach church.
The symposium, the first of its kind, was hosted by the city's Office of Violence Prevention (OVP). Participants included several community and violence prevention organizations across the region, featuring speakers with personal experiences of crime, violence, and loss.
Blajos, author of the book "Blood In, Blood Out", recounting his life of gang affiliation and violence, highlighted the transformative power of choice and religion in his life. The gospel shared with him in a dark prison cell changed his course, leading him to abandon a life of crime for a path of service and faith.
Panelist Jose Gomez from the OVP, a former perpetrator and victim of violence, expressed concern about the weapon-centric culture among Stockton's youth. He emphasized the importance of the event in addressing the pervasive gun problem not only in Stockton but nationwide.
The symposium's core message was the power of collective effort in helping communities in need, underscoring the potential for betterment, irrespective of challenging circumstances. Blajos advised individuals to make wise choices, cautioning, "They're free to choose but not free to choose the consequences."
Speakers acknowledged the changing landscape of crime, influenced by advancements like social media and technology. They emphasized the crucial role of mentorship and accessible resources in guiding at-risk youth and adults, particularly at crossroads in their lives.
Danica Bravo, a coordinator for Project Rebound at Stanislaus State University, highlighted the availability of services and opportunities for at-risk individuals, including employment opportunities and night school. She also emphasized the therapeutic power of sharing and writing personal narratives.
The Office of Violence Prevention plans to host more of these impactful symposiums at schools and other community spaces, aiming to bring transformative narratives and advice to youth and families directly.