A Road Long Traveled

Hello All, my name is Marcelino Rodriguez 

Ahhhh, where to begin… Well to begin this piece, I was born and bred here in Fresno. I grew up in 93702, East Fresno area. During the 90’s, it was an area filled with red raggers, drugs, no hope, little opportunities, and extreme hardship. At the same time, it was an area that taught me everything I know today. Life was rough growing up. Dad was not in the picture, to be politically correct, he was never in the picture. Growing up, mom would tell me he was a hard working butcher, but on the side, he sold cocaine. She would tell me he was from, Tepatitlan de Morelos, Mexico. As I youth, I had no idea what that meant. I just knew I carried his name. I never seen my father. Father’s Day were the worst in grammar school. Kids would ridicule me, but being a shy, timid, and bullied kid, I would never respond back with words. I would simply wait till I got home and cry with mom and ask her, “why?” Till this very day, I shy away from adding the JR. suffix to my name. 

Growing up in the neighborhood was tough, but manageable. The color my neighborhood associated with was red. You learned early on the code of the streets. It was a code filled with codes, secrets, and traditions. Romain Playground was where we would spend our time after school and during the summer. The Fresno EOC would have a Summer Lunch Program, those ham sandwiches kept us with something in our stomachs, till we had dinner at home. Any chance I could, I went to Romain. Next door was the Police Activities League (PAL). They would give us bikes for Christmas and a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, but more importantly they provided us with a mentor to look up to. 

For grammar school, I went to Jefferson Elementary, then Powers-Ginsburg Elementary.  Here I first encountered racism. I recall being rejected by my classmates when I wanted to play dodge ball. I remember the white kids telling me I was a “darky” and I couldn’t play with them. I asked why I wasn’t allowed to play, they told me it is because I looked different. I found out that for the rest of my life I would overcome color barriers and obstacles. 

While I went to Powers, we lived with my Tia across the street from the school. Mom was looking for a home that we could call our own. We were in danger of being homeless. Eventually, mom found us a home on the Lower East Side of town. I switched schools again, from Powers-Ginsburg to Hidalgo Elementary, only to find out, that we lived in a war zone of a neighborhood called Bond Street. Mom didn’t know that the area we were moving into was considered bad.  She would say, “We had to live somewhere.” Mom had an unorthodox way of raising us. She would introduce us to pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, the gang bangers, homeless, and the street walkers, as a way to get us acclimated to our environment. At an early age, we were exposed to the drugs, the violence, gangs, guns, poverty, and the monthly drive-by. We were told to drop and hit the floor when we heard gun shots. You just became used to it. In our neighborhood, Chicanos were at war with the Asians. Looking back, I would say that we simply did not understand one another. Our cultures were different, our food, music, and customs were different. I saw many die from the liking of a certain color. As I look back, it was just our reality to the abnormalities of society. You would wonder if the rest of the city looked the same to our neighborhood. We did have any role models growing up. For many of us urban kids, our dads left the scene. Our mom worked to support the family. We lacked mentors and people to look up to, until a couple and a few others moved into the neighborhood. They belonged to a church called World Impact. They would welcome us kids into their home to eat and learn about Jesus Christ. They gave us a place to be kids, but more importantly, they provided us with a sense of hope, that things will get better.  Those folks from World Impact must have been praying for us because we were sufficient in many things, and seeds were being planted.  

I went to Yosemite Middle School. We had a school dress code. I remember when we were only allowed to wear four colors: green, white, black, and blue. During my middle school years, I experienced bullying. If I remember correctly, I was bullied just about every day. “Kick me” notes on my back were prevalent. Middle school was the most difficult part of my life at that point. 

For high school, I went to McLane High School. High school was a time to grow up and for many, mature. High school was a complete blur for me, nothing made sense. I didn’t understand why we were all segregated by cliques. You had your Geeks, Jocks, Cheerleaders, Thugs, Taggers, Ravers, Low Lives, the band, and Gothics. High school was such a detrimental experience. The bullying continued to happen. I would not discuss this issue with anyone, I kept to myself quite often. I remember when the lunch bell rang for us to begin our lunch period. I would skip lunch and sit outside my 5th period class, just to avoid the bullies and those who wanted to recruit me into the gang. I tried to avoid them as much as I possibly could. During my high school years, I felt like I had no one to talk to, and I mean no one. Weeks before graduation, my school mentor told me to not sign up for college because I wasn’t going to be successful. I made the mistake and believed him, so I refused to sign up, until mom found out. She forced me to attend college. Eventually I signed up. In 2005, I ended up graduating high school, and boy, was I glad I was done with that. 

In the fall of 2006, I attended Fresno City College, but suddenly dropped out days later. College was not what I expected. The classes were difficult and I did not understand what the professors were conveying to me. In October of that year, I found myself in Clearfield, Utah. You may be asking, how I ended up there? Right? Well, the story goes that I saw a commercial on TV advertising Job Corps.  It was a place where I could earn money, a college degree, and become someone. So I decided to enroll myself in the Fresno EOC Job Corps program. I eventually was shipped out to Utah. When I arrived at Job Corps, I noticed the youth were at-risk youth--homeless, druggies, felons, and Mormons. I was none of the above. I struggled to know where I fit in the equation. Job Corps was not for me. So I returned back to Fresno, and re-enrolled myself back at F.C.C. the following semester. I eventually graduated in 2010 with my Associate’s in Liberal Arts and decided to transfer toCalifornia State University of Fresno, as a Communication major. I had the bright idea of majoring in the study of communication, because I loved to talk and figured it would be easy. I wanted to become a prosecuting attorney, but life definitely had different plans for me and placed me where I needed to be.

In August 2010, I finally landed at the place, I had always dreamt of--Fresno State. I remember passing by State billions of times. We even had field trips there when I was in grammar school. I told myself I was going there when it was time. State was my Harvard, my Princeton. It was my Ivy League. I was ready to enter higher learning.  I took my usual communication courses, with the intent of eventually graduating with a degree in my hand. I was just proud I made it there, I did not put too much effort in my studies. I thought if I used the same bad studying habits as I did at FCC, I would be alright, and pass. I was definitely wrong. The work load from school to school was day and night, plus I wanted to DJ on the weekends with the underground house party crowd. Bad studying habits, no effort, playing music on the weekends, and refusing to do homework was a concoction for failure. Well I did fail, I failed a Communication and Aging course at State and earned a 1.0 GPA for Fall semester. I finally earned my first F on my college transcripts. Way to go! The Admission Department advised me that if I received another F, during the spring semester I would be academic disqualified. Long story, short, I received another F and was academic disqualified. When I learned I was disqualified, I was beyond distraught. At this time, I felt like a failure, a true failure. I felt like I failed my family, my Spanish surname, but more importantly, I felt like I failed myself. During this time, I had no direction, no vision, or path. Mom would tell me to pray about it, to be honest, I didn’t have much faith. I understood God existed, but I truly did not have a relationship with the Lord until failing school. 

During my time of being lost with no direction, I thought of suicide millions of time, but never managed to commit. What a horrible and low time I caught myself living in. We used to live across the street from a Christian Church near the railroad tracks on Maroa. I would stop by and hear the Pastor preach. I would go more and more.  I developed a curiosity for someone who died on the cross for my sins. I wanted to hear the story of Jesus Christ. I was able to hear the story, and eventually converted to Christianity. My life would never be the same. It was not easy, but it was not the same.

Eventually I was able to return back to State after jumping through a million and one hoops and receiving several endorsements. I continued my college career, this time with a new outlook, a new major, and was determined more than ever. This time I felt like I had something to prove. I had to prove something to myself that I was not a failure. In May of 2014, I graduated from THEE California State University at Fresno with my Bachelors Degree of Science in Criminology. I was the first in my family to graduate from a major university. In my family, we only graduated from A.A. or Junior High School. My dreams finally came true, a brown boy from the Lower East Side finally conquered his dreams! Graduation was a bitter sweet experience for me. For so many years, I had been a student and it was time to enter the real world. That day on graduation, the familia was happy, especially mom, she was thrilled. Her mijo paved the way for the cousins, nephews, and nieces to think about higher learning and hopefully attend college. 

During my college years, I was working in group homes with at-risk youth. I was first offered a job in a group home when someone knew that I was an unemployed Deacon at the Baptist Church. I spent hundreds of hours working with the youth. To me, it was never work, I truly loved working with the youth there. It came to a point, where I wanted to test the waters a bit and leave working with youth and work with adults. Eventually I did, as a case manager working with adults who had mental illnesses. It was an experience like no other. I was able to work with different diagnoses and help those in need. Sadly, there came a time when I felt like I was only able to maintain people and not provide any substance to enrich their lives. On the brighter side, I grew a curiosity for mental health, but still continued to have my trailblazing spirit for working with youth. Eventually, I decided to leave working with adults and continue working with youth in the mental health world. It was the best of both worlds. I enjoyed my job by working with the youth and their parents in a mental health setting as a consultant. 

As the saying goes, “all good things, must come to an end.” In this case, a very tragic end, an ending I wasn’t ready for. An ending that would change my life forever. My sister MonaLisa died of kidney failure on December 20th, 2015. My life turned upside down. Growing up, I sought Mona’s approval before I sought my moms. I always wanted to make sure I made Mona proud. Growing up in neighborhood, she made us tough, it’s just the way it was. She always would tell me to be proud of who I am, to keep my head up, not too high, but high enough. On her death bed, she said, “Brother, go make me proud.” I took the message to heart. My sister Mona was homeless for about 9 years. She had this problem with pride. When I was little, she never wanted us to help her. When I grew up, she was more receptive to receiving help. I remember going to the Poverello House consistently to visit my sister. She would tell me about places called: Evangel’s Home, Naomi’s House, Holy Cross for Women, and the Rescue Mission. I had no clue what these place were about. She would simply tell me that they were places she lived. I remember my first time meeting my sister at the Poverello House, I was saddened. Growing up, I thought I seen it all, I was wrong when I would visit her at the Pov. There were so many homeless people laying around in tents. Back then, Santa Clara and G Street was full of tents and small makeshift living areas. It was a tragedy. My heart grew a curiosity for the homeless population. My sister was homeless and growing up, we were in danger of being homeless several times, and I just knew I wanted to help out the cause. 

After my sister passed in December, January was approaching. I knew I wanted something new in my life. I heard about an agency that was hiring called the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC). I remembered EOC from when I was young. I went through their Head Start Program, I also received WIC through the program, and lastly, I applied for Job Corps. So I was definitely was well in tuned with EOC. I heard about the wonderful things the program does for the community and how they give back. I knew I wanted to be on board. I applied for the Youth Outreach Worker position. I read what the job duties consisted of, and I knew I had to belong to something that special. I applied, and 2 months later, I received a call from Human Resources telling me they would like to interview me. I wore my best suit for the interview and tried to give it my best shot. I said a prayer before the interview and went as far as fasting after the interview, just to stay in the walk. I would pray more and more in my War Room to secure the position. The Lord showed me favor. Eventually, I was offered the position and boy, was I excited. I told the whole world about the occurrence. I seemed to be happier than then everyone else, but then again, it was my mission and destiny that I had to live out, not theirs.

In April of 2016, I started working with the Fresno EOC Sanctuary with Homeless and Runaway Youth. My job is to link homeless and runaway youth with housing and other resources by going out to the same streets I grew up in and build relationships with the youth.  We do this by disturbing food, hygiene supplies and other survival aids. Prior to being hired, I had absolutely zero experience working with those who had no place to live. My experience was only with those who suffered from a mental illness. Interestingly enough, some homeless individuals that I have come in contact with do suffer from a mental illness and I felt at ease. My current position is a blessing from up above. I am able to do my part and serve humanity. I think of the scriptures that says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” or “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.” These scriptures add fuel to my fire. My sister continues to restore me. When I have to go to the Poverello House for any occasion, I still get goose bumps, but it lets me know my spirit is alive and not dead. I plan on being with Fresno EOC for decades, perhaps the rest of my career. I always wanted to belong to something great, I have found that. I am proud to say that I am an employee of such a great agency. 

As I close, I get asked a lot, “what keeps you going?” My answer is the Lord, my strength resides in Him, as I am able to serve humanity, but more importantly, give back. Also, my mother keeps me going. She was one who pushed me to finished school.  Through those dreadful morning wakeup calls and long lectures kept me going. She stressed that I finish school and make something of myself. I think about the years mom worked in the fields to provide something better for us. I think about my grandma living in Chinatown and working in the fields. I think about Mona and the times at the Poverello. I think about those who paved the way for me to go on this journey. I think about those ancestors of mine who fought in the struggle. I think about those who are lost and caught up in the system. I think about those who have no direction. I think about those who on the verge of committing suicide. I think about those who lost their life to a life of crime. I think about those are trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. I think about those are trying to survive life. Among other things. You tend to think about those kinds of things. In closing, this journey was not something that I chose, I like to say, it has chosen me. I look forward to what the future brings me. This journey of serving mankind is definitely not over, I am just getting started. I thank you for reading this story of me, and these were just my thoughts… The thoughts of Marcelino “Marv” Rodriguez.