Finding Empathy for the Gang Who Shot Him

Homeboy Industries ‘graduate’ Omar shares the powerful moment he realized he could find empathy for a member of the gang who shot him. “We had different stories but similar pain” — a journey from anger to healing to love.

Video Transcript

Narrator: Why do you deserve to be loved?

Omar Perez: I’ve never been asked that. Why do I…

Tour guide — noun: one that leads or directs another’s way.

Omar: When I started doing tours, I just started. You know? I only started because I wanted to be outdoors. I didn’t want to be in the office. I didn’t expect the personal questions. I didn’t know that was part of the tour. I just expected to give out information, like this is the 30-year anniversary for Homeboys. I was giving off facts like the way I am now. The people were telling me no, no, no, we came here because we wanted to know about you. That was totally unexpected.

Following a gunshot to the head, Omar lost the ability to speak. Today, he works as a tour guide for Homeboy Industries in East LA.

Train announcement: The next stop is Union Station in downtown L.A.

Omar: I got to the point where I wanted to get killed, because I felt I was failing at everything. I had already passed the age I thought I was gonna live. But I just decided to try Homeboy for what it’s meant for. I didn’t know what to expect, but the thing is once the sharing started, it was when the healing started.

I got laid off and then a week later I got shot. I got shot a few times. One of them was here (pointing to his head). It affected me kind of like a stroke. That only added to the anger I already had. But then I also had a baby on the way. All these mixed emotions. Like saying it is like nothing now. This is ’cause four years of talking, right? But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy before.

We’re gonna start walking inside the building. Like I said, I only started doing tours, because I hated being in the office. I got placed in an office because of my disability and I hated it. I’ve always been active. I needed something outdoors. I just asked if I could follow one of the tour guides and I seen it and I was like I could do it. Obviously I missed the part where he was outdoors sharing his story, so I thought it was easy.

One of the guys from the gang that shot me, right, he was interested in doing tours. He had to shadow somebody. And it’s usually me. They knew the history so they asked if it was okay. I said ‘yeah,’ because I wanted to know what he went through you know? I went through this, that, and that and I was like I want to know what this guy went through. After I heard his story, everything really changed for me because I didn’t hate him. I respected him for everything that he had to go through. The anger I had toward the rival, like I said, once I heard somebody from… Once I heard their story, it changed my thinking because I respected him for what he had to go through. We had different stories but similar pain.

I knew that this time I really wanted to try it. Trying it meant just giving everything a shot. I always get reminded their story heals me. You’re seeing them, their smiles and stuff. It’s healing me. I continue to heal.

Narrator: Why do you deserve to be loved?

Omar: Because I’m great. I don’t know. I’m a great father. I’m a great friend. I’m just great. Now I can … I still heal, but I can walk with people. I started to feel like I’m an example for other people too.

Heart open. (Church bells)

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