A man dressed in a black jacket, sunglasses and red bandana sauntered into the auditorium at the Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity’s (CORED) Annual Open House in the Hintz Family Alumni Center Wednesday to an audience waiting to see who he was.
The man, who was Richard Santana with Homeboy Goes to Harvard Productions, introduced himself as Mr. Chocolate in a Spanish accent, and the audience members laughed.
Santana received his master’s degree from Harvard University, but his presentation for Homeboy Goes to Harvard focused on his struggles with gang life and drug addiction growing up as a Latino in foster care in Fresno, Calif.
Homeboy Goes to Harvard Productions is an organization that sends speakers around the country to raise awareness about issues such as gangs, drug addiction and self esteem among youth and how they affect students’ choices and future success.
“All my life I’ve had people look down on me because of the way I look, the way I talk, the way I dress, the color of my skin,” Santana said. “My mama died when I was three years old, and mi papa walked out of my life before I was born, so I’m a product of the system.”
Santana spoke about being discriminated against in grade school for his race and clothing, relaying a specific time in the front office when the principal scolded him for his attitude and told him not to return to school without a parent — someone Santana didn’t have.
When the police found Santana wandering around town the next day, he was told to get back to school, which he couldn’t do without parents. Santana explained that it was these kinds of situations that left him an “angry” youth.
“When did school start [in the United States]? The 1700s? Do you think they were thinking about me?” Santana said. “Who was [school] meant for? It was meant for wealthy white men. If you look around, most of you don’t qualify. But those rules and codes still exist and they’re meant for the same person.”
And through attending, some students said they found his speech to be enlightening.
“I wanted to come to hear about diversity. I learned that people should not be so quick to judge another because of unimportant differences,” Shuler China (junior- English) said.
During the lecture, Santana made two columns on an overhead projector and asked audience members what they would think if they saw a Latino gang member dressed like him on the street — answers included violent, uneducated and drug-addicted.
He then asked attendees why they thought boys tended to join gangs — listed were things like loyalty, family and acceptance.
The point to this exercise was to illustrate that because the negative column was what society expected of boys like Santana who were in gangs, that’s all those boys thought they could be and, therefore, what they became.
“One side of the list is positive, and one is negative. They’re opposites. It’s divisive. Someone has to be right, and someone has to be wrong,” Santana said.
He then asked audience members to list characteristics of certain races, most of which matched a set of stereotypes for these races that were the top listed characteristics submitted to a Time Magazine survey.
When Santana asked the audience members if they believed the Time survey stereotypes were true, they unanimously responded in the negative.
“If this stuff ain’t true, then tell me how come you know the answers?” Santana said.
The audience members fell silent.
“The most power you have is admitting how [racism is] inside of you,” Santana said. “If you can’t admit it, then you become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. The sooner you admit it, the greater the possibility that you can do something to change it, to break the cycle.”
Some students in the audience attended because they would receive extra credit for a class, but these students also said they enjoyed the presentation and learned new things.
“Personally, being from another race, I can connect with what he’s talking about, dealing with stereotypes,” Wendy Chang (junior- hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said.
Santana said he decided to become an educator because of one of his teachers, who took the time to look past his exterior and get to know him as a person. This teacher also encouraged him to escape gang life and pursue his dreams.