EL CENTRO – The Mothers and Men Against Gangs Coalition (MAG) hosted an Anti-Gang Awareness Fair at Imperial Valley College Saturday, to show families and their children alternatives to getting involved with gangs and offer education on the warning signs of possible gang activity.
The Anti-Gang Awareness Fair began with the 3rd Annual MAG Coalition 5K Run, marking the first year the event was held outside of Brawley. The run commenced at 7:03 a.m. in remembrance of Martin Alberto Garza’s football number, “73.”
Garza’s life was lost due to gang violence less than three years ago, inspiring his mother Yulil Alonso – Garza and his family to create the MAG Coaltion as a way to combat gang violence and keep her son’s memory alive.
Yulil explained the importance of working with the community and expressed her gratitude for a partnership with Imperial Valley College that she hopes to continue for many years.
“Our mission and our vision is to get everyone equally involved because we are all stake-holders in our children’s future,” Yulil said.
The Imperial County Gang Intelligence Coalition came out to show their support and partnership with the MAG Coalition for the Anti-Gang Awareness Fair. The ICGIC was founded one year ago by officers as a way to exchange information on the current gang problem in the Imperial Valley.
It was during the coalition’s meetings that they realized gang presence and other subsequent problems in the Imperial Valley were bigger than they had thought. Surprisingly, they revealed that gang tagging has even been found in Ocotillo Wells.
With gangs from as far as Riverside and Los Angeles counties being seen in the local community, and no formal training specific to the Imperial County being offered to local law enforcement, the ICGIC filled a need for law enforcement agencies to come together in order to combat the local problem.
Anti-gang training is currently only offered in San Diego, Riverside and Los Angeles, however that training curriculum is not geared specifically towards the Imperial Valley, according to ICGIC President, Officer Leonard Barra and ICGIC member, Obed Flores, a federal probation officer affiliated with the United States Probation Office.
The coalition has reached out to almost all school districts within the Imperial Valley to offer education to students, staff, and parents, as well as administrative and staff training on gang prevention, things to look for, and how to identify and deal with gang activity.
The ICGIC is made up of law enforcement from local, state, and federal levels, but is not overseen by any one agency. It is scheduled to host the First Trans-National Gang Conference, with members of the Mexicali community in October of this year.
The IVC Associated Student Government also volunteered for the days’ events.”I think it’s important for kids and young adults to be involved in these type of events to occupy their time”, said Priscilla Ortiz, Associated Student Government president.
Members of the community organization La Gente Car Club from Brawley also showed their support with an exhibition of several of the classic cars for which they are well known.
Music for the event was provided by Jose 94.5 radio station, while their parent company, Entravision, interviewed the Garza family for the television station. The company also raffled off tickets to the San Diego Zoo, and along with Del Taco, provided free water and other promotions.
“This is our community and it affects us,” said Entravision Promotions Coordinator Francisco Uribe.
Superintendent/President of Imperial Valley College Victor Jaime explained that his partnership with the MAG Coalition for the Anti-Gang Awareness Fair was a small way to give back and hopes that this can become an annual event that can grow each year.
“If everyone can get involved and do something small, we can make a difference,” said Jaime.