“I got tired of going in and out of jail. I got tired of waking up at people’s houses that were dope houses. I got tired of being on the streets where I didn’t know where I was going to be at, you know what I mean, the next day because I was living foul," says Rudy Corpuz.
He started doing drugs, became involved with gangs and dealing drugs, but at one point, Rudy had a dramatic change of heart. “A transformation started happening. Because there was a power, an entity that was so incredible that I was introduced to. You know what that gangster’s name was? God. G-O-D. That’s why his name starts with a G, ‘cause he’s gangster like that,” Corpuz says. “So I started loving myself again, I started having a relationship with myself and started to know that I was somebody, and that I was worth something."
Rudy founded United Playaz in 1994, a violence prevention and youth leadership organization that works with San Francisco’s hardest to reach youth through street outreach, case management, in-school services, recreational activities, and support to incarcerated youth. Rudy founded the organization to create a safe space for kids and teens to go after school and to make the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood of San Francisco a safer place. The SoMa neighborhood has some of the highest murder and assault rates in the city. As of 2010 -- the most recent figures available -- twenty percent of SoMa residents lived in poverty. That’s compared to twelve percent of San Francisco as a whole. United Playaz does violence prevention outreach, going to schools and even talking to kids on the streets. Most employees are ex-felons who grew up in San Francisco. United Playaz has committed more than 15 years to improving the lives of young people surviving in vulnerable environments who show high incidence of truancy and low academic performance, or who have been involved in the juvenile justice system through direct service and community collaboration.
Over the years, Rudy has transformed many lives but he says that he's the ultimate winner: "When I smoked dope like I told you I got high, and I hit that pipe and I blew the smoke out, and people know who smoke crack how it feel. It gives you a feeling like whoo-ee, like you on top of the world, right. This feeling that I have now when I see kids or people in general make transition in life is a thousand times better."
With his doo-rag neatly tucked under his white baseball hat, his long ponytail perfectly braided, Rudy's shirt reads the United Playaz motto: “It takes the hood to save the hood." With his nearly two decades of commitment, Rudy Corpuz today is recognized as a leader in the field of youth violence prevention.
On this call, Rudy will be interviewed by David Kriozere -- a housing developer who has served as a principal, partner and consultant on urban projects including One Rincon Hill at the Bay Bridge entrance to San Francisco. His community involvement includes developing a health plan for Tibetan refugees in India that was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama, a music mentor program for homeless youth in San Francisco and a yoga program for homeless adults in San Francisco.
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