COMBINING EFFORTS AGAINST VIOLENT EXTREMISM
It is a pleasure and honor for me to be a part of the launch of Serve 2 Unite online magazine. When Arno approached me with the request to participate with an article, it was, for me, and opportunity to join forces with great leaders; such as, Arno and Sammy Rangel, who put their lives on the line every day to work in this area of ministry. But more than leaders, they are warriors that know the risks they take, and they take them anyway—because they believe that the lives of many can be positively impacted most effectively by those that were once walking the same path. Whether you are a community leader, law enforcement officer, or perpetrator, I invite you to join us and help bring upon the change that is desperately needed to those most in need.
It was Summer of 2012 when I met Arno Michaelis at a Gang Prevention Conference in North Carolina. Both of us were guest speakers and I anticipated that most speakers would touch on the subject of how violence impacts our lives. What I did not expect, however, was that his presentation emphasized the reality of violence from the perspective of the perpetrator, as he once was.
I was there to speak on the aftermath of violence coming from the mother of a victim. My son was killed by a two-strike felon and gang member, who was later acquitted of the homicide. I have met many people as I travel around the country presenting on this topic, but I was taken by surprise when I met Arno because I had not ever stood face-to-face with a former offender. It was an interesting introduction, to say the least. I was intrigued to hear his story and as I listened to the explanation of his life experience, I could not help but feel compassion for him and for the painful lessons that he’s had to learn. More importantly, I felt proud of him for having the courage to change his life and work towards combating the same violent world he once contributed to.
Since then, we have been discussing the opportunity of working together to bring a holistic approach to the problem of violent extremist. We have discovered that working collaboratively will empower this cause by approaching it from every angle. We believe it will support individuals seeking an escape and it will change lives through the transformative power of love.
Tiers of Sorrow author Sandra Huerta was born in Mexico and migrated to the United States as a young child. She grew up in Southern California and is the middle child of a family of 11. She and her husband, worked hard to raise their children well. They have four children and two grandchildren.
Sandra has extensive experience in marketing and graphic design. She is fluent in Spanish and uses her bilingual skills in both her professional life and within non-profit organizations whenever the need arises.
Tragedy devastated her and her family with the homicide of her 21-year old son; which took place in April of 2004, by her sister’s boyfriend, a 2-strike felon and gang member. Adding to their horrific loss, the killer was a fugitive for ten taunting months and when he was finally arrested and tried by a jury, the tragedy mounted by a shocking acquittal. Sandra found herself in a tormented state for months, until confronted with a choice that had to be made in order to survive her son’s death and once again be the mom she needed to be for her surviving children.
Shortly after the acquittal; her family moved across the country in fear of their own safety. Through the frustrating and painful experience during the criminal trial, she found herself compelled to help other victims needing a linguistic resource, and determined to help make a difference, she now works as an independent interpreter.
Through public speaking and with efforts to provide hope and encouragement to bereaved individuals suffering the death of a loved one, Sandra endeavors to bring awareness about the aftermath of violent crimes. In addition, she believes it’s important to be proactive and work to gain ground in the areas of gang and domestic violence prevention.
In addition, she travels all over the state sharing her story and sending a message of grief, hope, love, and survival. In doing so, she feels her son’s death is not in vain and hopes to build a legacy that is representative of her son’s character.
Sandra joined The Compassionate Friends of Charlotte in 2009 and almost immediately worked to produce a fundraiser for the support group, pulling together members of the group to embark in a journey in loving memory of their loved ones and in recognition of the courage it takes to survive the death of a child. The event far exceeded the goal and the funds generated will help further develop the resources needed by members and will facilitate growth as well as bring community awareness. This was the biggest fundraiser in the history of the local chapter.
Most recently, she has been asked to join the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association and Gang Free North Carolina (NCGIA/GFNC) as a Victims Advocate. Under this responsibility, she hopes to work with existing non-profit organizations to help facilitate additional resources to assist with some of the greatest and most critical needs. In turn, the organization leaders can continue their already established programs with contributions from neighboring sponsors that can help fill the gaps so that support is offered to as many individuals as possible.
“Motivation for Survival and Inspiration for Revival.” —Sandra Huerta