By Idris Garcia, Chattanooga, TN–A UTC student was given a second chance and is striving to pay it forward.
Jose Perez, founder of MaxiMYze and an outreach advocate for the Gang Task Force, underwent a change after dealing drugs and landing in federal prison.
“I’ve been doing a lot of under the radar outreach since I’ve been released from jail,” Perez said. “You know, visiting the prison systems, building relationships and building trust. Obviously, I have a lot of credibility in the inner city because I learned the ins and outs, and they can see that you can be delivered from that lifestyle.”
MaxiMYze is an organization that operates from UTC and is an outreach that strives to improve the outcomes of individuals in the inner city and beyond.
Perez said his exposure to a multitude of gangs in Los Angeles allowed him to be exposed to different demographics, so he can relate to different people.
“What really helps me is that I can tell these teens that where they’re at right now is where I dropped the ball, which really stunted my maturity and paralyzed my integrity,” he said. “So I tell these kids your ability sets the ground floor but your integrity will set the ceiling. Far too many students are forfeiting their future just to fit in. Learn to maximize your time in school by putting priority over pleasure.”
Perez has also partnered with the Gang Task Force in Chattanooga since meeting Boyd Patterson at one of their events, he said. They met during the first phase of the Gang Task Force’s work, and together they are moving forward.
“My main role with them is to add credibility on the streets and provide hope to the gang members that there are alternatives that you are not stuck in this life or mindset,” Perez said. “I’m going to start touring schools in the Hamilton county school system and the north Georgia school system and we’re going to go in there and hold assemblies where there will be an entertainment component to get the kids excited and then deliver a high impact presentation based on what the principal would like. That can be anywhere from domestic violence, to bullying, to pursuing a higher education, whatever they need.”
Perez said it is important to recognize that Hispanics are an important demographic to reach in the Chattanooga community.
“There is a lack of awareness about common law, and a lot of students run into difficult assignments that their parents can’t help them with and they don’t get the resources they need,” he said. “We try to plug them in to the resources available and raise awareness.”
The key to helping them is outreach, Perez said. The Gang Task Force has started to use soccer as a way to reach out because it is a passion for some, and people connect with what they love, he said.
“We set low fees for the soccer leagues and encourage the parents to attend life skills courses that teach them about the laws and give them advice in raising their children in this community,” Perez said.
Another important focus is retention in schools, Perez said.
Many Hispanics do not have the desire to attend college because they feel pressured to get a job right out of high school to support their families, Perez said.
“They don’t realize that going to college can set them up for a career,” he said. “I’m going to be heavily recruiting Hispanics to UTC. We want Chattanooga to be a place where Hispanics can come to seek career opportunities and enhance the economy by pumping money in through tuition and the money they spend around town. We want it to be a place where Hispanics can bring something to the community and enhance it.”
Perez said he is happy to give back because of the second chance he has been given.
“I love school, I love this university and I want to do everything I can for this University because I appreciate them offering me an opportunity with a felony on my record,” Perez said.