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Former Queens Gang Member & Ex-Convict Set To Graduate from Columbia University: “I Don’t Want My Past To Define Me”
Today’s “Good News of the Day” comes courtesy of a young man by the name of Richard Gamarra. After seven years behind bars for assault and weapon convictions, the 28-year-old former Latin King gangbanger managed to turn his life around and will be graduating with a master’s degree from Columbia University’s renowned Mailman School of Public Health May ’17! Check out his inspirational story below….
“I don’t want my past to define me,” he said. “I want to undo that stigma of being in prison. I know there are a lot of other Richards out there.”
He succumbed to peer pressure, joining the Latin Kings in high school and warring frequently with their rival street gangs.
“I was a bad kid,” he recalled with a bittersweet smile. “I was getting beat up a lot. I knew I needed a weapon to defend myself.”
He was carrying a loaded 9-mm. handgun in his book bag when cops were summoned to Holy Cross High School in Flushing by an anonymous 911 call back in December 2004.
Gamarra reflected on the difficulties of growing up in Flushing, Queens, as the youngest of five Colombian immigrant children.
His gang activity finally landed him in prison at age 19. “I was still involved in gangs,” he recalls of his time behind bars. “I was in a dark place. It was rough.”
His fortunes began to turn in 2011 when he met Robert Fullilove, a Columbia professor teaching public health to inmates at the upstate Woodbourne Correctional Facility.
Gamarra enrolled in the class after spending some time in solitary confinement. “I didn’t want my life to be this anymore,” he said.
Gamarra’s intellect caught Fullilove’s interest from day one. “A couple of good students always stand out,” the Columbia professor recalled. “I told him, ‘Come to Columbia. I’ll make it happen.’ The odds were still pretty stiff, but he applied and made it.
“He’s unique. He’s become a role model,” Fullilove said. “He’s a standout.” Gamarra said Fullilove gave him hope that turning his life around could include becoming a good father to his now-10-year-old daughter, Izabella.
He was released Nov. 13, 2013, and Gamarra quickly called his old teacher about that offer to enroll at Columbia.
Gamarra received a bachelor’s degree in public health and health education from the City University of New York in 2015. He enrolled at the Mailman School that fall. “For me, education rehabilitated me,” Gamarra said about his unlikely college career. “I said, ‘I’m going to take it and I’m going to run with it.”
Gamarra, who wants to use his public health degree to teach and counsel inmates, said he’s motivated to succeed because of his daughter. She was diagnosed with brain cancer the year after his prison release and is now in remission. “With her strength, positivity and recovery, as well as with this degree, we are both on track to making the world a better place,” he said. – via nydailynews
Now, this is a great story! We’re glad that Gamarra was able to turn his life around for the sake of his daughter and become an inspiration to other inmates who face the same challenges he was able to conquer. This goes to show that with the right influence and support, even those many had given up on can completely change and become productive members of society. We wish Gamaraa and his adorable daughter nothing but the best!
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