I am Adam Toledo

I grew up in a very violent household. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I also spent my formative years in Los Angeles at the height of the crack-epidemic where street violence was at an all-time high.

I was never a violent kid myself. I was a bit of nerd since I first to learned to read at age 3. But I was lost and an emotional wreck. My Marine dad was not home, as he and my mom seemed to hate each other so much that he would get stationed in far-away places like Louisiana and Okinawa while we stayed with my grandparents in LA, just south of Compton and west of Long Beach.

My mother had an emotional break-down. I had two uncles who were full-blown alcoholics. Another uncle became addicted to crack and was abusive to my grandparents. I even had an aunt that got addicted to crack. Shootings and helicopter chases were daily occurrences.

The feelings were too much. I was exactly the same age as little Adam when I started hanging out with other lost kids in the neighborhood. It started with listening to hip-hop and break dancing, but the gang phenomenon blew up with the crack-wars such that many felt they had to be in a gang just to survive. As a messed up kid, struggling with my sexuality, and dealing with emotional trauma, I welcomed having some friends who had my back. I was also just trying to be cool or at least fit in like any other kid that age. I didn’t have a grasp on the implications of hanging out with those friends. I knew deep down I didn’t like many of the things we did. But once you get into that space, it’s really hard to see clearly beyond the social norms of the group.

Unlike Adam, I made it to 17. That’s when a good friend was murdered by a rival gang over a dispute involving the killer’s sister. Our little group was devastated. We weren’t like those massive, gang-empires like 18th Street or MS-13 or the Latin Kings. We were a little band of friends trying to survive a treacherous time and place.

I fell apart around this time. I started drinking heavily. I did drugs I swore I’d never do. At some point, my Grandfather, my father figure that usually seemed at a loss of how to help me, finally stepped in and was able to pull off an intervention.

I am alive today thanks to my Grandfather and because I wasn’t murdered by a cop or some other messed up kid. That’s luck or destiny or something. I got the chance to get through my feelings and to bounce back. I figured out my sexuality. I fell in love. I went on to graduate with honors from one of the country’s most prestigious universities. I became a lawyer. I’ve served our communities in different parts of the country for over 25 years. I turned out ok.

Little Adam will never have the chance to do any of those things. He never got a chance to bounce back.

He was a child.

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