Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Angalia Bianca Is Helping To Change Our World

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Not to wear my heart on my sleeve. At first, I refused to believe I could not help everyone. That led to a lot of heartache. I learned to pick my battles as I may never win the war, but I am determined to try.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angalia Bianca.

Angalia Bianca is one of Chicago’s foremost authorities on violence prevention, receiving international recognition and awarded a Resolution from the City of Chicago. Bianca spent twelve years in prison. Now she goes far beyond the expectations of recovery to a life of service fueled by an unrelenting determination to make a difference.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After 36 years of addiction, crime, gang involvement, prison, and losing my children and family I made up my mind that I didn’t want to die alone in an alley from a bullet or an overdose. I got out of prison and checked into a rehab. I began volunteering by going back in the streets to talk with at-risk youth with an intention to help youth make better choices to save their lives from going through what I went through. JW Hughes, a program manager who worked for an anti-violence program in Chicago saw me several times on the street talking to youth. He saw something in me and believed in me. He gave me a chance and a job. This led me to discover my passion and my purpose to help others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I was speaking in Chicago at an academic event. I was on the stage and a woman in the fourth row stood up and loudly said, “That was you who was with those two black men who robbed me at gunpoint 20 years ago.” I responded, “Oh my, that probably was me. I’m so sorry and I’m not that person any longer.” I put the mic down and walked off the stage to her seat. I said, “I am so sorry that you have been traumatized for over 20 years and maybe God put us together today so that I could apologize and hopefully you can get closure.” At that moment she said nothing, and the audience was on the edge of their seats. I went back on the stage and completed my presentation. Afterwards the woman stood in a line with others who wanted to shake my hand. When the woman got up to me, she said, “I FORGIVE YOU, I’M HAPPY YOU’RE HELPING YOUTH” AND THEN SHE HUGGED ME. This made me feel very happy that the woman found some peace and could move on. We both had tears in our eyes. It was a very emotional moment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 2014, I was a speaker at a conference in Chicago. Many community leaders were in the audience. As I was speaking a woman in the back row stood up and yelled, “I remember you from seeing you on Roosevelt Road.” I replied, “Oh yeah, that was me, Miss Roosevelt Road.” Everyone cracked up as Roosevelt Road in Chicago is known as a strip of prostitution. I also said, “Thank God I no longer hold that title.” We all giggled, and several attendees yelled out, “Thank you for your honesty and transparency!”

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I continue to work independently in vulnerable areas with high-risk young adults who are at-risk for being shot or shooting someone day to day to help them change their mindsets/behaviors and to provide resources that can help them make a change.

I am also with an anti-violence NFP organization called Acclivus Inc. Chicago that does street outreach to reduce violence in the communities they are funded to work with. Currently they are funded to work in seven different communities on the south side of Chicago.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In 2013 I began working with a 16-year-old who was involved in high-risk street behavior. He dropped out of school and was always on the streets. He had been arrested several times for drugs, thefts, and possession of a gun. After a couple years of working with him he asked me to help him get a job. (Not an easy thing for a convicted felon.) I spoke to a grocery store owner in the area who offered to hire him as a bagger. He took the job. He was slowly making better choices and then I lost touch with him. I did not know if he was dead and could not find his name in the justice system. After two years, I got a Facebook message from him. I was so happy to hear from him. He told me he was promoted at the store in a western suburb of Chicago. He said he met a girl; they had an apartment and a son together. He wanted me to meet his family and thanked me by saying he would not have his beautiful boy had it not been for me not giving up on him. I cried with tears of joy. Most of the time we never know the ripple effect of the impact we may make on someone.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Federal, State, and Local Governments should research better before allocating funding to vet programs/organizations that do the work. Many organizations get millions of dollars and do not do the work they claim they will do.

2. As a community we must change the narrative to encourage youth instead of labeling individuals negatively.

3. Society must stop judging people in marginalized communities. Most people have no idea what a person has been through and what potential that person would have if given a chance.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders teach others how to lead and not follow, so leadership to me means being with your staff, doing the work with them to set an example and not just be a figurehead.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Not to wear my heart on my sleeve. At first, I refused to believe I could not help everyone. That led to a lot of heartache. I learned to pick my battles as I may never win the war, but I am determined to try.

2. To vet individuals who ask for help to make sure they are serious. I used to go all in when a person asked me to help them with a job or to get into rehab. I would spin in circles helping them and setting it all up only to find I could no longer get a hold of them. Now when someone asks for those things, I say, “Sure, call me tomorrow at 3:00 PM and we will discuss it.” Often the person does not call the next day and I know they are not ready. So, I wait and when they are ready, I will be there to help.

3. You cannot save the world. Young men would call asking me to help them get formula for their baby and I would go right out and buy it out of my own pocket. Then I would see the person on social media smoking weed. I would call them and say, “So you smoked the formula, but I had to buy it?” Now when asked I reply, “Yes I will help but you have to do something for me.” I tell the person I need an hour of your time to come and volunteer with me to pick up garbage at the park or something similar. If they refuse, then I won’t buy the formula or whatever they are asking for. I can say that most of the young people kind of giggle when I say that, but they do comply.

4. Don’t react on impulse, think things through. I used to see that a violent situation was about to unfold right in front of me. I would act on impulse putting myself in danger of being shot. I jumped out of my car and stood right in front of a person with a gun who was about to shoot. I would try to stop them (which in those cases I was able to but at great personal risk). I now understand that I cannot not help people if I am dead and have learned to assess a situation in different ways with minimal risk.

5. Not everyone you will work with are as passionate to help change lives. I learned this the hard way by going above and beyond to help co-workers only to find out I was being manipulated into doing their work. I now know how to help anyone but to make sure if a worker does not know how to do something, I must teach them how and not do the work for them. A valuable lesson that I use every day in my work. Never give up on anyone but showing them how is the key to their success.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to start a NFP to help young single mothers on welfare in marginalized communities become self-sufficient. My future organization would offer them college classes or vocational training so they could build a skill set, providing them with a computer for online classes so they are home with their children during the process. Once they are ready for the workforce, we’d help them with business clothing and childcare costs until they begin getting paychecks to afford childcare on their own. This would not only change and break generational cycles but would help the tax base as well. Funding a program like this would save governments money in the long run by investing in people for the greater good. This idea is to get women empowered, inspired, working, and off public aid.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Working with youth and young adults it is natural to care about them and want the best for them. I get very close with so many young people, sometimes it feels like they are my own children. One young man I tried to help as a teenager became very close to me. I was even like family with his siblings and his mom. All my colleagues knew I was close to this kid, and he was very high-risk involved in high-risk street activity. He ended up getting shot to death in a high-profile homicide on an early morning in May of 2015. It was all over the news. When I went to my office, I was crying very hard and could not stop. My then Director, LeVon Stone Sr. who knew I was very close to this young man, knew I would be very hurt. He was waiting at the elevator when I walked off and saw my tears. He offered to refer me to a trauma counselor, and they went on to ask me, “Bianca, what could you have done to save his life?” I began to ramble while crying, “I could have done this and that,” and LeVon said, “STOP! You did everything you could for him. Some people are destined to destroy themselves no matter what you do.” LeVon said, “I’m going to repeat that one more time,” and he did. I learned that no matter how much I try or how much I care I cannot save everyone, and I must take comfort in the young people I have saved and helped. It is a lesson I continue to hold to my values today.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) because I want to educate him about social media security measures. He created a great thing, and for the most part it’s great that we can find our long-lost childhood friend and others BUT there is a very dark side where violence is initiated and escalated on Facebook online until it gets so bad with back-and-forth in an on-going conflict that it ends up going offline to actual shootings and/or killings with gun violence. I would love to give him and his security team a training on how violence is escalated via Facebook and how to identify potential violence. So much more can be done to curb violent on-line behaviors.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook — Angalia Bianca

Instagram @angaliabianca

Twitter @angaliabianca

LinkedIn — Angalia Bianca

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Angalia Bianca Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.