Part One: How one man dared to do something different and created his peaceful purpose
Iran Nazario went from a hardened life on Hartford’s streets to a distinguished position as the passionate president and CEO of a non-profit organization focused on peace in Connecticut’s capital. Now, with heart and hope, he is a dedicated graduate, memorable mentor, and proud partner of Goodwin University’s Entrepreneurial Network (ENet) program. Below is part one of his extraordinary success story.
After you finish speaking with Iran Nazario, his words and ideas linger long after the conversation, settling deep beneath the surface and continually calling you back like a loyal friend. That very special brand of leadership, in one way or another, has carried him throughout his incredible and inspirational life.
Survival of the fittest, creating a family on the streets
From a young age, Iran specialized in staying alive — building on his basic needs, developing his destiny, and constructing a world that encompassed what his early life lacked.
“I am a creator by nature,” Iran shares, “but my initial definition of the word ‘creator’ was ‘survivor.’ My family was involved in drug use and addiction. I was abused as a child, homeless, in foster care, and impacted by the juvenile justice system. At an early age, I started creating ways to survive.”
With only bleak alternatives ahead of him as a young man, Iran found a family on the streets when he joined a notorious Hartford gang, Los Solidos (the Solid Ones).
Los Solidos provided Iran and his brother, Efrain, security and protection against the realities of poverty that had burdened them since boyhood. Iran’s quick wits helped him rise through the ranks of Los Solidos, mirroring moments throughout his childhood and behaving in ways that he believed were normal. As a result, case files came and went, and Iran grew all too accustomed to life within the walls of Connecticut’s Department of Corrections.
Breaking family traditions to bring hope for tomorrow
After years of watching his brothers’ and sisters’ paths end in a life of crime, or in a casket, Iran tired of the street wars that were never truly won. And, although still a member of the Los Solidos family, he decided to turn his life around.
One day in downtown Hartford, Iran was approached by Dr. Michael Borrero, director of UCONN’s Institute for Violence Reduction program. Iran was initially reluctant to trust this stranger in a suit, but after learning the professor wasn’t employed by the police, Iran considered his proposal to become part of a study on disproportionate minority hiring.
Not long after that initial, influential encounter, and enticed by the prospect of leading a new kind of life, Iran took his smarts off Hartford’s street corners and started earning a paycheck as a survey distributor for the Institute for Violence Reduction.
This work was “the first time I was out of my bubble of survival and street life,” Iran admits. “I was able to see other people who weren’t like me or in my situation — people who had different views on life, who had dreams, goals, and aspirations. That was the point I realized there was a different path I could take to survive.”
“It was terrifying to adjust to because it was the unknown,” Iran notes. “It meant that I had to leave everything I knew behind. My life lessons were the only form of education I knew. It was about reinventing myself, taking responsibility, and being accountable. I wasn’t an educated kid. I didn’t know how to goal set; all I knew was street life. This opportunity was a whole new level of challenge that I didn’t feel I was ready for — especially in the beginning. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t feel like I spoke the right way, dressed the right way, or knew the right things. I mean, I barely read books, and there were so many things that people were talking about that I didn’t understand, so I always felt left out. It was intimidating.”
A memorable mentorship
Dr. Borrero mentored Iran throughout his time as a survey distributor and later as a violence mediator.
“It was the first time someone was talking to me about things that were positive,” Iran remembers. “He was consistently there, never wavering from the fact that I had to step up and do what I had to do. He told me that he would help me, too, and that was powerful.”
“There were times that I would test him on purpose. I thought, if I could find another disappointment, I could stay where I was comfortable,” Iran acknowledges. “In my mind, I quit a ton of times. I quit verbally, too. I was in an internal fight with myself saying, ‘You’re about to make a difference in your own life, and you don’t know how to handle it, and you want to quit because you’re terrified of what might happen.’”
But Iran didn’t want to disappoint the mentor who believed in him, who didn’t just give him a job, but coached him, guided him, helped him with forms, and encouraged him to apply himself.
“I fought him tooth and nail for a while, but he was so patient with me, that I finally felt I had a male figure in my life who wanted better for me. I started to feel hopeful, too. I started getting recognition — I spoke in front of classes, people were valuing my experience, and I felt safe. I lived a very violent life. I lived around a lot of violent situations, and I saw way too much of it. You were never quite safe; you were never quite calm. And being away from my community for five to seven hours a day allowed me to rest a little bit. I was still in a gang, I was in a war with other gangs, and we were actively trying to hurt each other. It was a lifestyle that was very chaotic, and you had to be hypervigilant all the time, but when I was working, I didn’t have those worries. That’s what kept me going and kept me from going back.”
“If Dr. Borrero hadn’t looked out after me, maybe I would have stayed doing what I was doing because I would never have learned a different way.”
Click here to go to Part Two of Iran’s story.
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