Matt Sanchez left Santa Barbara only twice – once when he joined the Marines, the other, when he went to prison.
In 1987, as the leader of the Eastside Hoods, Matt called the heads of the area’s other twelve gangs together. After several shootings, he wanted to put an end to the violence. The peace treaty lasted for five years.
In 1992 after the stabbing of a rival gang member, Matt called everyone together once again. This time the kids ended the negotiations with a touch-football game and a barbeque. That activity led to a bus trip to the mountains. Dubbed “Hoods in the Woods,” the program allowed gang members to stop “banging” and start working together and trusting one another.
After the deaths of several friends including his own brother, and a prison term, Sanchez finally realized that the only way to stem the violent behavior was to expand his program into one that would support and encourage gang members to put aside the past and embrace the future of possibilities; a future that would not only end the gang activity but allow kids to be the best they were meant to be.
Sixteen years later, Matt’s vision of rival gang members and “at-risk” kids learning teamwork, trust and responsibility has emerged as a positive force. With a dramatic and documented fifty-five percent reduction of gang-related activity in the greater Santa Barbara area, All for One currently manages a membership of over two hundred youth and thirty mentors. “The purpose,” Matt says, is “helping kids lead more productive lives; to see the end of the road before they reach the end of the road.”
Matt shows his commitment in helping “at-risk” kids see beyond themselves to a greater responsibility to their families and each other.
“One time, this kid got stabbed,” Matt says, “and his friends called up and said, ‘It’s getting crazy over here. Can you come over?’
“It was about twenty kids to eight, and it was confrontational. But the eight from the rival gang were older, so they had more of a fearless attitude. Normally, these kids wouldn’t dare attack me because of my status as a former gang leader, but all that went out the window.
“I pulled the older ones to the side. I’m trying to tell them that I know how they feel. Look, I said, you gotta understand where these youngsters are coming from, but they didn’t really want to hear me. They were saying that they lost a friend also because he was now in prison.
“Then I spoke to my youngsters – these are the ones that we’ve been working with and I said, look, this is the time, right here. This is where everything that we’ve done in the program, this is where it counts. You can let this guy over here talk his talk, but if you’re going to fall into that, then take a good look around and think about whose funeral you’ll be going to next. You better tell everybody, right now, how much you love ‘em because you’re not going to see them again. Now, if you reallylove them you wouldn’t think of yourself right now. You’d think of him, then you’d think about his parents and everybody else because that’s who’s going to be left. Right now, you’re thinking about yourself. You’re thinking ‘I don’t care. I’m going to do this and if I die, I die.’ That’s fine. You don’t care. You look at that as a man but that’s not really how a man looks at things.
“They knew that we’ve been telling them this through our time together. We tell them stories about the friends that we’ve lost; stories about prison, all the stuff that nobody talks about. I look at these kids and I don’t want them to go through the same thing I went through. They bought into a lie, and I bought into the same lie: that that’s the life, being a gang member. This is what you’re going for right now! This is the price you’re going to pay, right here!
“And so they knew. They knew that when I tell them, or when some of our mentors talk to these kids, they could see it in our eyes; they could hear it in our voice, that what we’re telling them is true. They know that we’ve lived it; that we’re still living through it.
“Just then, the older kids began challenging the younger crowd. ‘Come on! Come on!’ The younger ones’ looked at each other until one said, ‘You know what? Leave it. Just leave it. Let him go.’ And they walked away. And I was proud of them.”
For his selfless commitment to “at-risk” youth, Matt has been honored with a Certificate of Commendation from the State of California, 2000; The California Wellness Foundation’s California Peace Prize, 2000; and Santa Barbara County Probation Department’s 1999 Distinguished Service Award.