Edgar was one of my firsts. Decades ago, he became my first boss, first mentor, and first significant male ally. And now, almost exactly 29 years after we met, he just became another first.
Edgar was my first boss, but not my first supervisor. Before him, I had a dozen supervisors at the many part time jobs I held between the ages of 16 and 22, but I don’t consider them “bosses” the way Edgar was. Edgar was 38 years old, a psychologist with a PhD, and Colombian. He had a hearty laugh, pretty hazel eyes, and a long, curly ponytail. I confess I had an occasional crush on him, but he was Director of Program for the nonprofit social services agency where we worked, and he was my boss.
I was the agency’s newest and youngest Area Coordinator, and the only one with an office in our headquarters — just across the hall from Edgar. I was 22 and a newly-minted, magna cum laude UCLA grad when I took the job as a frantic Plan B. Plan A had been to join the new and exciting Teach for America corps as an “inner city” high school teacher, and I thought I was a shoo-in with my smarts, my experience and my kickass live teaching demo. However, I was rejected just weeks before graduation, and found myself with no backup plan and no income safety net. Combing the newspaper classifieds, I saw an ad for the job at Catholic Big Brothers, and quickly applied. Edgar interviewed and hired me, and I started working for “CBB” two days after graduation. Ego bruised by the TFA rejection, I was relieved, energized, and grateful to be on Edgar’s team, ready to make a positive difference in the world.
Edgar was my first real boss. And just a few days ago, I learned that Edgar went to prison for four years.
Edgar was more than my first boss — he was also my first true mentor. My job at CBB was to interview big brother volunteers in my office, interview little brother applicants and their moms in their homes, match them together in pairs, and monitor the relationships. The vast urban area I oversaw included “South Central”, East L.A., Central L.A., and Hollywood. It was the summer of 1992, and the city still smoldered from the uprising sparked when a jury acquitted the four policemen who beat Rodney King.
The big brothers were mostly single white guys with decent jobs and good hearts. The little brothers were mostly Latino and African American youth living in neighborhoods plagued by poverty and gang violence. The kids struggled with educational challenges, a lack of positive male role models and the chronic weariness of their single moms who worked long, punishing hours in the urban L.A. of the 1990s, rife with drugs and immigration raids. Many of those moms didn’t speak English. Many were undocumented. Some had fled the violence in their country of origin, or in their own homes at the hands of their children’s father.
As a new college grad making $22k working for a nonprofit social service agency, I could still afford a one-bedroom apartment in Silver Lake, ten minutes from my office on Temple. I drove all over the city in my copper-colored 1980 Honda Prelude, hunting for the kids’ tiny apartments on dangerous streets and down dubious alleys. In my baggy jeans, combat boots and long, curly hair, I navigated nearly 200 square miles of the second-largest city in the U.S. relying only on Thomas Guide and pay phones — no cell phone, Google Maps or Waze. I didn’t have a computer in my office, or at home — just phones and file cabinets. I took interview notes by hand, and presented my cases verbally in our weekly team meetings — as did the other social workers on my team and in agencies across the city.
Edgar presided over those meetings with professionalism, grace, and appropriately provocative questions. At the time, all of us Area Coordinators were white women, although I was regarded by my coworkers and the families we served as an honorary Latina. As a team, our job was to ensure the kids’ safety from pedophiles by screening out volunteers with red flags. Our mission was to support the success of the matches, and improve the kids’ chance of success in life.
I learned a lot about social work, psychotherapy, justice and human relationships by watching Edgar in action and observing his thought process. I appreciated the way he listened to our feedback, accepted my challenges in private, and sometimes changed his mind. Between the two of us, we elevated the agency’s work in the Latino community by appearing together on Spanish-language TV and radio. We often took two of my “little brothers” — Diego & Rafael*, brothers in real life — along as poster children for our program’s success. Their “big brother” eventually attained success in Hollywood as a film producer, and today their families are intertwined across generations. The brothers are now in their late 30s, and I’m still close with their extended family — in fact, I attended Diego’s wedding in Oaxaca two years ago, and last month I cooed over photos of his newborn daughter.
Edgar was my first mentor. And just days ago, Diego’s mother called to let me know that Edgar — the man in charge of ensuring CBB’s kids and families stayed safe from sexual predation — went to prison last year for being a sexual predator. Read the rest on Medium.
** Not their real names.
Photo: @bandbehindthemask · Band