ASU student earns Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for volunteerism

Photo courtesy of Carmen R. Trujillo. Photo courtesy of Carmen R. Trujillo.

Criminology and criminal justice graduate student Gabriel Cesar leads by example, criminology and criminal justice senior Carmen Trujillo said.

Trujillo and Cesar have mentored together at a group home in West Phoenix through Free Arts of Arizona, a nonprofit organization that helps abused, neglected and homeless children through art, since late 2010.

Trujillo said Cesar connects well with kids, and his leadership skills come naturally.

"It’s real meaningful, and it’s nice to see him finally recognized for all the stuff that he does, because he’s so genuine about it," she said. "He’s just super good at finding ways to connect with people and build you up so a person feels acknowledged, so a person feels like they matter." The two visit the group home weekly and perform activities that range from cooking to writing with the boys, Cesar said.

"I like to have them write a lot," he said. "That’s really my thing is to get kids to tell their story and to share it with the other kids. In that setting, in that group home setting, there’s usually a lot of understanding. A lot of times they can identify with each other."

Cesar received the award for his work with the Free Arts program. He said he was nominated for the award last year, but this year, he interviewed and actually received the recognition.

"You hear about the big meeting with the long table and all the people and legit that’s what it was," he said. "There were 15 people around a big table, and I sat at the top of it, and they all asked me those $10 questions."

Cesar said he is particularly interested in studying children in Child Protective Services and the caregivers who provide for them.

"There’s a lot of attention put on kids that are in jail, but not a lot of attention is put on kids that are a little bit more messed up than normal kids in their family but aren’t severely messed up where they’ve already done something terrible," he said.

Cesar also works with Frank Thompson, founder of AZ Rhythm Connection and adjunct faculty at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Cesar said the two worked together on a program that they hope to continue in the future in which kids from Free Arts worked with the music therapy clinic at ASU.

"We are just finishing up 10 weeks with three kids," Cesar said. "They’ve been writing poems in their free time, and one day a week we go down to the (clinic), and they are putting their poems into kind of simple songs."

Thompson said Cesar is extremely devoted to helping others and shows leadership characteristics of empathy and sincerity.

"I think he deserves the award because of his absolute conviction to help others and doing it by his actions, not by just words," he said. "His everyday activities are just an abundance of community giving."

Cesar said he is working to start a program with the College of Public Programs to help adolescents in CPS get access to grant money available to them for college.

"There’s no program in place to help kids get access to that money," he said. "The funding is there, but there’s nobody explaining what needs to be done to get to it."

Ultimately, Cesar said he wants to help CPS children graduate or get a GED and go to college.

"I’m going to graduate and leave, and I’d like to be able to have made an impact in a way that I can leave behind me," he said. "If it works right, then I’ll be handing it over in two years to undergraduates from CPS that I helped get into university and then have a mentor program specifically for that with regard to the grant process."


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