He claims there are days he doesn’t feel like working, but when Eric Gomez steps in front of students in a classroom, he lights up.
Gomez is focused on helping male students beat the odds of dropping out or joining gangs in the inner city area where Henry Ford Academy is located. To do this he organized a group called Infinity. The 26-year-old teacher said the fraternity or brotherhood is definitely needed to help teenage males try to avoid pitfalls.
“Drugs, alcohol — some of my students don’t live in the best neighborhoods,” he said.
Life wasn’t easy for Gomez either. His dad battled alcoholism and drug use before turning his life around and recently graduating from college at age 50. Despite living with his dad’s substance abuse, Gomez knew early in life he wanted something better. He talked about leaving a legacy and vainly striving for immortality.
“I wanted to be successful. It goes back to that immortality thing. I wanted to be able for people to look back and say he did do something right,” he said.
Doing the right thing, to him, means giving back to the students. Gomez organized the Infinity group for male students, hoping to shape leaders who could offer positive peer support in school and later on in the work force.
“He taught me to man up for myself. To take charge and become a man. To better myself,” said Eric Castillo.
The 11th grader is among 18 members of Infinity ranging from 9th to 12th grades. Since joining, Castillo boosted his GPA and credits Gomez for inspiring his desire to succeed. The teenager catches two buses to make his 45 minute commute to and from the small charter school he loves.
Principal Jeffrey Flores insists college is not an option, but an expectation and teachers try to make sure students are prepared. Flores said teachers provide tutoring and take students on college campus tours to instill the value of higher education.
“It’s not just an 8-5 job. We make sure they’re not just good students, but that, in Infinity, they become good, strong men,” Flores said.
Part of the Infinity lesson is learning to give back. Gomez lost a good friend, Matthew Mendoza, in Afghanistan. Gomez said Infinity students held a video game tournament and the money raised will go to a scholarship fund established in Mendoza’s name.
“He’s not here anymore. But his legacy will live on, in terms of being a good person. I want my students to grasp that and carry that legacy with them,” the teacher said.Watch the interview