From gang life to Dean’s list: Arthur Goodman scholarship winner overcame street violence and reached UC Berkeley

Small Business Loans
February 13, 2018

About five years ago, Juan Flores received a call from a worried friend that prompted him to turn on the local news. Flores would go on to learn someone he hung out with the previous night had been shot and killed in an alleyway behind a 7-Eleven.

That jarring moment was the ultimate wake-up call, Flores said. At the time, the former gang member was one year removed from a completed 3-year prison sentence. And already, he plunged back into old vices. “I went to the streets again,” he said. “They were the only people who embraced me.”

Since that news story aired, Flores has vowed to turn his life around by giving back to his community and pursuing a formal education. With the help of an Arthur H. Goodman scholarship, he is working toward a sociology degree at UC Berkeley and is the first in his family to attend college. The annual award — presented by San Diego-based lender CDC Small Business Finance — honors service-minded women and minorities transitioning from community college to four-year institutions in California or Arizona.

“Being awarded this scholarship is not only an opportunity for me to pursue a higher education but to send a message that one’s environment does not dictate someone’s future,” wrote Flores, in his application essay.

“People like myself are needed in society as proof that anyone can attend college,” he added.

‘I wanted something better for myself’

Growing up, Flores’ family did not consider education a priority, he recalled. His father dropped out in middle school and his mother never finished high school. Flores himself attended only up to the ninth grade.

His surroundings didn’t help. Street violence, drug use and poverty saturated his neighborhood in Imperial Beach. By 14, Flores joined a gang and became addicted to meth. In his early 20s, he completed a more than three-year stint in prison.

Post-release, Flores returned to the only place he knew would accept him: the streets. After floundering for about a year and then learning of his friend’s death — he was certain he wanted to turn a new leaf.

“I just knew i wanted something better for myself,” Flores said. “I’ve always seen education as something that in the long run can benefit a person, to obtain a career, a house, a job.”

That’s when Flores found Amity Foundation, a non-profit that helped him cope and manage the trauma that smothered his adolescence. From there, he went back to school while working the graveyard shift at a steady job.

Since then, he’s given back by sharing with others his story of downfall and rehabilitation — and mentoring troubled youth. Over the last five years, he’s clocked in more than 700 hours of community service through several non-profit groups.

Flores maintained his educational momentum at Palomar College, where he made the Dean’s list and obtained his associate’s degree. His plan then, he said, was to continue learning as much as possible.

Through one of his speaking arrangements, Flores met Danny Murillo, co-founder of Underground Scholars Initiative at UC Berkeley. The program helps formerly incarcerated students successfully navigate the academic system and find community.

“He made Berkeley sound like there was a place for me,” said Flores, who was later accepted to the top university.

How the Goodman scholarship helped

There was no question Flores would attend Berkeley. But there were doubts about how he’d be able to pay for it.

The burden of attending the $30,000-a-year school became significantly lighter after learning he secured a Arthur H. Goodman scholarship through CDC Small Business Finance, which he discovered online. 

Flores’ ability to bounce back from a string of major setbacks resonated with the scholarship committee, said Robert Villarreal, CDC’s senior vice president of community development and head of the scholarship process.

“It really touched everybody,” he said. “His plan of where he wanted to go and how that was influenced by where he has been.”

When I found out I had won the scholarship, I’d probably compare it to the feeling of getting into Berkeley, probably more so.” –Juan Flores, Arthur H. Goodman scholarship recipient 

In addition to helping students realize their dreams, the scholarship pays homage to Goodman, CDC’s founder and well-known philanthropist, who started the company in 1978.

The scholarship is “designed for women and minorities, who Art Goodman advocated for,” Villarreal added.

Flores was floored after learning he was one of three scholarship recipients in the 2017-2018 school year.

“When I found out I had won the scholarship, I’d probably compare it to the feeling of getting into Berkeley, probably more so,” he said. “I knew everything was going to be all right.”

“Many thanks to everybody on the scholarship committee, the foundation for this opportunity,” Flores added.

Down the road, Flores wants to pursue a Ph.D. degree in sociology. He hopes to use his schooling to closely examine data on mass incarceration and come up with meaningful solutions.

Want to learn more about the Arthur H. Goodman Memorial Scholarship and how you can apply? Visit CDC’s scholarship page for details and a downloadable copy of the application. 2018-2019 applications will be accepted from Feb. 15, 2018 through June 8, 2018.

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