Army veteran serves as peacemaker in urban combat zones
Many people fear the places Hector Jimenez needs to be. He relies on his battlefield experience and his studies at USC, where hes earned two graduate degrees almost every day.
In environments where gang violence stalks communities, Army veteran Hector Jimenez is unafraid. He served eight years during the 1990s, then followed a meandering path to a military social work degree at USC.
I grew up around USC, but I took the long, scenic route to get an education here, he said. I ended up where I needed to be.
Jimenez needs to be in Los Angeles neighborhoods designated as Gang Reduction and Youth Development zones, where gang-related crime is four times higher compared to other parts of the city. Young people in these zones are hounded by the potential for violence, a situation not unlike combat.
These are the kids were trying to reach, Jimenez said. Theres peer pressure, and sometimes they dont really have a choice. They need protection, and they cant see any other way. If you can put yourself out there, you can understand that.
Hector Jimenez relies on street smarts, two USC graduate degrees to make an impact
Jimenez, 50, admits struggling to find his way when he returned from active duty. He worked a series of jobs, including a stint leading USCs Campus Cruisers a program that provides safe rides after dark.
After earning a business degree at California State University, Los Angeles, he made his way to USC for two graduate degrees. The first was an Executive Master of Leadership from the USC Price School of Public Policy in 2015. Then came a masters from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which will be conferred on May 19.
Hectors got a lot of life experience, and he doesnt blink.
Jimenez followed the military social work track, then chose to direct his career toward gang diversion and prevention at Soledad Enrichment Action.
Hectors got a lot of life experience, and he doesnt blink, said Mirna Romero, director of operations at Soledad Enrichment Action. She met Hector when they were both studying at USC. He wont back down, but hes a peacemaker. Hes got this empathetic side, which is a combination you need for this work.
That work includes developing the talents of at-risk youth and guiding those whove been given a second chance by the criminal justice system.
People are surprised sometimes when they find out what I do, Jimenez said. They might say, Thats a really dangerous job. My military background says it may be dangerous, but youre there for a reason.