You have a long history focusing on youth, youth in the arts, etc. What is your take on the artist's role concerning the lack of options for our young people? What response do you feel is necessary, given that lack and the ever-present recruitment of our young men and women into the military?
The arts are the most effective and meaningful way to deal with violence, alienation, disaffection, and a lack of hope — these are all plaguing young people today. While I don't have a gang-focus program at Tia Chucha's, I know that we are helping many gang (and much more nongang) youth. They find books they cannot get anywhere else. They get to see films, participate in dialogues, obtain skills in all the arts and various media, express themselves in Open Mics and other outlets at Tia Chucha's. This empowers them. It allows them to tap into the inexhaustible creative power they all possess. It helps them see themselves as agents of change with the power to shape their own destinies and futures. We need more imaginative options for young people. Too many of them join gangs, get into drugs, or join the military because there are few other choices to make. We need real resources and real relationships to help young people become what they are capable of becoming — the greatest resource for change, justice, and real peace we have today.
You and I are both at midlife. How has that influenced your world view, your priorities? Describe its impact on you not only as a writer and activist, but as a family man.
I have learned to value learning and change in my life. Too many of us "olders" don't get to become elders because we have become stuck with emotional, psychological, and social baggage. I feel I am entering a phase of my life that requires that I give back, that I teach, that I help others to summarize their lives and get organized.
It's not so much about what "I" need to get (whether in my career or personal life), but in the things I do and say, how I can help strengthen, guide, and positively contribute to my community. I learned, for example, to become sober after seven years of drug use and 20 years of drinking (I've been sober now for 14 years). I've learned to be a better father, especially to my youngest sons, but also with my oldest kids who suffered a lot due to my own fears, uncertainties, and failures. I don't do anything that pulls me away from family, yet I'm still quite active in the world. These have to complement and enhance each other, not take away and undermine. My writing as also changed--a lot more reflective and also conscious. I'm painfully aware of how much I can teach from my work, my actions, and my inactions.