About Meryland Gonzalez

Born to immigrant parents in Watts, CA has profoundly shaped me into the woman I am today. Extreme destitution, gang violence, and scarce educational resources is rampant in my community. However, despite the many challenges I had to endure in my beloved community, it was because of these circumstances that I became a rose that flourished and blossomed in concrete. We are often told to get an education to escape the conditions of our neighborhood. Having been away in boarding school at Colorado Springs, Colorado for my entire high school career, a completely different world from Watts, I yearn to come back and create a rose garden not just for my siblings but all of South Los Angeles.

Due to the danger and violence in my community, my parents placed me in almost every sport you could think of. However, I was never interested in the sports they put me in. But since we watched a lot of boxing together as a family, I wanted to try it. Coming from a traditional Mexican household and boxing being a male-dominated sport, my parents were reluctant to let me join. Even at the age of eight, I wanted to transcend gender norms and be a trailblazer. I bargained with my parents to let me be a boxer and they agreed—I was allowed to box as long as I maintained straight A’s. With the same tenacity and rugged reputation of my community, I took to the ring and soon became a 9x national champion, with a new goal of becoming an Olympian boxer. Despite these accolades, my parents always made sure education was a top priority.

Today, I am on a full ride scholarship at a boarding school in Colorado Springs. Although my parents were reluctant to let their Mexican daughter attend a school over 1,000 miles away, they also had the confidence in me that I would blossom in any circumstance, and they were not wrong. Since being here, I speak Mandarin fluently and am able to immerse myself in Chinese culture, allowing me to travel to China this upcoming May. I have also immersed myself in several leadership positions on campus, such as being a Merit Scholar, Admissions Ambassador, and Residential Assistant. I am involved in a student culture organization as a peer leader, and I am the captain of the volleyball and basketball teams. In essence, my commitment to education goes hand in hand with my passion for athletics, as both are avenues through which I can create opportunities and inspire positive change.

As I continue my journey in this new educational environment, far from the streets of Watts, I carry with me the strength and resilience instilled by my community and family. I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead, and I am grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today. I am determined to continue breaking down barriers and proving that, with hard work and determination, one can surpass expectations and strive for excellence. These identities are shaped by where I come from and the values of my family that stick with me, wherever I go.

About Araceli Gonzalez

Growing up in the challenging environment of South-Central Los Angeles, at the intersection of Compton Avenue and 103rd Street, I witnessed the struggles of my community firsthand. My small home was both a refuge and a vantage point, allowing me to observe the hardships faced by my neighbors, from school-related issues to substance abuse and gun violence.

As a first-generation Mexican American and the eldest in my family, I took on the role of a bridge between my Spanish-speaking parents and essential resources, navigating the challenges of higher education independently. The responsibility of translation highlighted the barriers faced by families with language diversities, motivating me to break down these obstacles for others.

My journey led me to appreciate the resilience of my low-income community, where violence coexisted with love. Chasing different paths than my peers, I gained insights into my own privileges. Through various experiences in human resources, public health, volunteering, and work, I recognized the importance of continuously understanding my own privilege while living in a low-income community.

Leaving my safe space, I became aware of the challenges faced by my community, particularly in terms of limited resources for individuals with autism or disabilities. Witnessing the barriers to healthcare and educational services for minorities, I became determined to make these services more accessible. Despite not fully understanding all the systemic issues, my experiences motivated me to advocate for informed resources and support for underrepresented populations.

Finding common ground with individuals who shared my background reinforced my sense of pride, as they understood the unique challenges we faced. Today, my goal is to contribute to creating a more inclusive narrative for the next generation, helping them navigate adversities and access the resources they need.

Presentation with Jonny Coughlin | Community Safety Partnerships: Strength in Unity, Law Enforcement’s Collaborative Efforts Leading to Academic and Athletic Excellence

This is a dynamic presentation on the powerful impact of collaborative law enforcement partnerships with non-profits and private sector strategies. In this session you will discover how these partnerships create pathways for education, employment, and mental health support through a proven 5-pillar approach. Jonny will delve into successful strategies targeting at-risk youth from 3rd grade to college, highlighting the financial wisdom that investing in a decade of private school education outweighs the cost of incarcerating a youth for one calendar year.

We will experience the real-life success stories of two sisters, raised in the challenging community of Watts, California who defied the odds through engagement with law enforcement and non-profit strategies. One sister has graduated successfully, while the other is a college student aspiring to be an Olympic boxer. Their inspiring journey showcases the transformative potential of strategic collaborations in communities plagued by gang entrenchment.