EL CENTRO – Sharing his childhood and near death experiences that awakened him from the darkness of gang life, incarceration and drug addiction, contemporary artist Fabian Debora was the guest speaker at the 6th Annual Imperial County Youth Summit Saturday morning at the Corfman Auditorium.
The annual event is an opportunity to bring awareness to youth and families about available resources within the community, and to educate them on the importance of completing an education and living a healthy lifestyle.
“Our goal is to show children who come from families with drug abuse and/or are involved in gang violence that there is a better life for them,” said Gloria Muños Brunswick, the manager of Imperial County’s Probation Division. “Our guest speaker today, Fabian Debora, is going to share his life experience and prove that there is a way out of violence.”
Debora was born in El Paso and taken to Boyle Heights in California at an early age. He was raised by his mother and father who were undocumented immigrants and were unable to find a job due to their migratory status. Desperate to provide for his family, Debora’s father turned to drug trafficking, leading to him becoming a drug user himself, and bringing violence into their home. Growing up in this environment, Debora, at the age of 10, also became a drug member, drug user and violent — just like his father.
“Oftentimes, parents don’t realize that their children are in the streets searching for the attention they lack at home because their parents are working,” said Debora. “Parents need to have an open relationship with their children and give them the attention they need.”
Accompanied by their parents, over 250 junior high and high school students attended the summit. All schools in Imperial County were invited and participated.
Debora is currently a director of substance abuse services, programming counselor and a mentor at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. He works in collaboration with the Latino Producers Action Network as a director of the Department of Arts, and an instructor between community artists in Boyle Heights and students in the classroom to expand his horizons and to fully and honestly express himself through art.
“It is important that the youth gather and hear stories, especially about the key note speakers and their past, and how it doesn’t matter what happens, you can always change the path that you are on,” said Imperial County Superior Court Judge William D. Quan. “The problem I see now is that the youth in the Valley on the dependent’s side are normal kids just thrown into a bad situation.”
According to Quan, the most common cases in the county involve dependency.
“Most of the dependency cases involve parents who have substance abuse problem that are not able to provide the proper care for their children” said Quan. “This seems to be the number one reason. Kids will imitate what they see at home and will imitate and believe that the care that they are receiving, even though it may not be adequate, is proper… We want to break that cycle and more importantly, help the parents and family realize the faults and then mend that system for them.”
Kids are the victims in any neglect situation, it’s not the parents,” continued Quan. “And it’s not anything besides (the fact) that the victims are the kids, that we can’t do what is best for the kids, and try and show them what the best alternative is. Then I think the whole system has failed at that point.”
The summit was coordinated and sponsored by the Imperial County Probation Division in collaboration with the Imperial County Juvenile Justice Commission.
“This event is a valuable experience for the youth and their families” said Imperial County Chief Probational Officer Dan Prince. “This is a way of approaching their lives, so that not only do they have meaning, but we can help assist them on a path to success through education, through learning new skills and through developing positive friendships and appreciation of their cultures and the cultures of others.”
The five and half hour summit included the youth interacting with activities. It also included breakfast and lunch, giving both parents and children the opportunity to spend quality time together.
Additionally, those in attendance had the opportunity to ask the keynote speaker, Debora, questions one-on-one, in addition to visiting informational booths.
“After hearing Fabian’s story, I feel truly grateful for my parents and their efforts to avoid me going through what Fabian went through,” said Artemio Trujillo, an Aurora High School student.
Debora, along with those who elected to participate, painted a large canvas that will be displayed at the Imperial County Probation Division Office.
“I am glad these programs exist,” said Carla Rosas, a parent. “Parents with children who are on the verge of taking the wrong path should take advantage and seek help before it is too late.”
Debora said he hopes to continue being a mentor for all those who are in the same position he was when he was a boy, and he encourages them to seek professional help to avoid unfortunate situations.
“We need to see our children for their strengths and not for their mistakes,” said Debora.