Jaime Garcia @ Principle Barbers
Jaime Garcia Principle BarbersImage by: Brian McConkey
Jaime Garcia @ Principle Barbers
26 October 2020

Jaime Garcia on becoming a mentor for Movember-funded La Villita Warriors

Jaime Garcia
5 minutes read time

Jaime works as a mentor for the Movember-funded La Villita Warriors program in Chicago. It is one of 5 community-led projects within the Making Connections Initiative. Sinai Health System is coordinating the featured program with a group of local non-profits, schools, and young leaders in Chicago’s west side. As a mentorship program, it is focused on supporting young men and boys of color who are growing up in a challenging environment where far too many men are dying too young.

Over 100 boys have participated as mentees in peer-to-peer sports and play activities, and 30 young and older men have been trained as mentors and youth coaches. These numbers are continuing to grow as the program is expanding to other neighborhoods in Chicago.

This is Jaime’s story:

I didn't have much of a childhood. I never really had my father in my life. I looked up to my two older brothers. There were good times, when they would pick me up from school and we would all play together. Those were highlights of growing up in my family, but those highlights didn't last long. By the time I was 8, one of my brothers was locked up. By 11, my oldest brother was murdered, lost to Chicago violence. I was only 11 years when I became the role model for my younger siblings. Overwhelmed with emotions and questions I ended up upset, angry, and most of all confused. I didn't know what to do next.

Going to school was rough too. I had stomach pains that would often cause me to miss school, and rather than being supportive, my teachers frequently accused me of lying about it. For years even my doctor thought I was lying. I heard that it was all made up and not real for so long that I ended up believing the pain was all in my head. Between the poor relationships with teachers and my stomach pains I lost a lot of my motivation in school. The process of getting a diagnosis and treatment was a long, hard journey that was filled with lots of delays and setbacks.. In fact, the process of getting medical care was so ridiculous it drove me to feel like I was insane. I would start making progress, and then I would abruptly lose my medical insurance for something I hadn’t even done. Each barrier along the way was more ludicrous than the last. Even with support I still felt like something was wrong with me. Some of my teachers and doctors were still saying I was making things up about my health. I got so sick of it, I started ditching school and wandering around aimlessly, which led to me getting shot at 8 different times in just one year.

" They (mentors) helped me to grow strong enough to leave bad habits in the past, and now as a part of la Villita Warriors I work to make sure I’m able to help other men and boys do the same. "

I cried so much on the day of my older brother’s funeral, more than I had ever before. There, I sat next to my brother's mentors, I had no idea then, but they were about to become my mentors. I was old enough to hurt but not old enough to know how to deal with hurt; they helped me to cope. For a long time after my brother’s funeral I couldn’t cry, I would feel hurt internally but outside I was just numb. My mentors helped me learn how to express that pain.

They supported me in ways that no one else had; they did so many things for me, things that the little me could never forget. I remember them taking me out to eat, cruising around and them asking about how I was doing, how school was for me. They actually cared about me. They became my role models; they helped me become more vocal and outgoing and more of a seeker of answers. Life was still shit and a lot of times I honestly thought that death would be less painful, as I felt that I was getting tortured slowly by my physical health and all of the violence in my neighborhood.

Even after I started a course of medicine and my physical health started to improve my mental health kept getting worse. I was dealing with heightened anxiety and paranoia as a result of trauma from Chicago street violence. Traumatic events came one after another just by walking around my neighborhood. Plus there was dealing with stigma that I should be “hard” and not show emotion, because anything other than that emotionless tough guy was seen as weak and a target, which in most cases in my world could end up a death sentence. My mentors helped reframe things for me, I wasn’t put through all my struggles and experiences to just give up, I put through them so I could help other people. In my short life I've experienced effects of trauma; depression, anxiety, paranoia, and bad coping strategies like substance abuse to get relief from those other effects. I'm glad that I had my mentors to support me and guide me because without them I wouldn't be here telling my story. They helped me to grow strong enough to leave bad habits in the past, and now as a part of La Villita Warriors I work to make sure I’m able to help other men and boys do the same.

Background on Making Connections: 

The Making Connections initiative was created following a detailed landscape report funded by Movember and developed by Prevention Institute. The report, Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys in the U.S., was released In 2014. This report explored some of the underlying factors contributing to the mental health problems in the U.S. Across the interviews and the reports reviewed, consistent themes, trends, and challenges for men and boys emerged, including:

  • Disconnection and isolation—from community, peers, family, children and culture—are major factors that undermine men’s mental health.
  • Trauma, and its associated symptoms of mental and psychological illness, disproportionately impact boys and men of color, in addition to military service members, veterans, and their families.
  • Stressors such as lack of economic opportunity, unstable economy, growing inequity, and exposure to violence are negatively impacting mental health and wellbeing.

To date, Movember has invested over $20M USD in the Making Connections initiative.