Alex Diaz’s story would not surprise anyone familiar with the effects of generational urban poverty. Born and raised in Dorchester, a lower-income neighborhood in Boston, Diaz grew up without a father and dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He joined a gang and committed a series of misdemeanors and felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping, which eventually landed him in the South Bay House of Correction, a local prison. He spent eight years behind bars and was released four years ago.
But here’s where Diaz’s life departs from the common script. Now 31, Diaz recently passed his High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and is pursuing a certificate in practical electricity at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. What turned Diaz’s life around is a program, Boston Uncornered, that formally launched this past spring, following a seven-student pilot in January 2016. The program pays gang-involved individuals, most of whom have spent time behind bars, a stipend of $400 a week to attend classes to pass their HiSETs and, where possible, to attend college until they graduate with an associate’s degree.
Students also receive social and emotional support from Boston Uncornered’s parent program, the education nonprofit College Bound Dorchester. Currently, Boston Uncornered is working with 170 students, 36 of whom receive stipends and 30 of whom are enrolled in college. “People coming out of jail need a lot of help,” says Diaz, who has guided friends into the program after enrolling himself. “I got a lot of friends that are in college right now, especially guys I know from the street, who thought they could never make it.”
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