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Former Pilsen gang member works to improve community

In the 1960s and ’70s, he was a member of a notorious, Chicago gang, but today he can be heard along the main streets of Pilsen saying “God bless you,” to passersby.

Living in Pilsen all of his life has earned Gutierrez many friends and acquaintances along his daily route. For more photos click here. (Photo by Yvette Cruz)

Raymond Gutierrez Jr. spends his time reaching out to communities with high crime rates to help decrease the violence in Chicago by inviting them to attend his church.

Gutierrez was born on March 22, 1946 to Raymond Sr. and Lucia Gutierrez. He grew up with seven siblings, three brothers and four sisters. He has lived in Pilsen all of his life.

At the age of 13, Gutierrez became a member of the Latin Counts—a well-known Chicago gang—and when he looks back on the experience, he knows it helped shape the person he is today.

“We were more of a club than a gang,” Gutierrez said. “That’s why we always took care of someone’s family if anything happened.”

Gutierrez was often considered the “peacemaker” in the gang and got along with everybody in the neighborhood, he said. Since he was welcome in other neighborhoods and by many people in the community he was the one who would make the deals with other gangs or call truce.

“They always said I had the gift of gab,” Gutierrez said.

View a video about Gutierrez here.

Gutierrez was always interested in the community and helping people. Both of Gutierrez’s parents worked for the city at one point. His dad, Raymond Sr., even had an honorary street named after him on Bishop and 18th Street for being the first Mexican-American for the Democratic Party to work for the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department. Ironically, 18th Street in Pilsen is known for gang activity, the Latin Counts, to be exact.

Gutierrez first got involved with the city when he started working with the Chicago Park District. He was learning how to help get things done in the community and even went on to work with several different aldermen at the time.

But he began to lose hope as more people in his life became victims of violence and death.

“I had four people die in my arms,” Gutierrez said. “It took a piece of me.”

Gutierrez stuck to his life of illegal activity and its consequences for several more years.

It wasn’t until his sister and a friend calculated the money he spent trying to stay out of jail and compared it to the money he was spending on things that could put him in jail that he realized just how much he needed to straighten up, he said.

“One year it came out to $45,000 just to stay out of jail,” he said.

Gutierrez was ready for a sincere change and that’s when he was introduced to Victory Outreach Church for the South Side of Chicago.

Now, 16 years after his last incarceration, Gutierrez devotes his time to the ministry at Victory Outreach in Englewood.  He attends regular service every Sunday as well as leadership meetings during the week.

But Gutierrez felt the need to do more than just help himself; he wanted to help others as well.

At 66, Gutierrez spends a lot of time walking around neighborhoods like Pilsen, Little Village, Englewood and Humboldt Park talking to youth and “people in need” to get them off the streets and onto a better life path.

“He’s talked me out of a few bad choices on the street when I’ve gotten angry,” said a Pilsen resident who goes by “Duke.” “I have a lot of faith in him.”

Because of his reputation in helping others, Gutierrez gets a variety of phone calls from different people asking for help whether it’s money they need to borrow or a ride to the doctor’s office, he said. Gutierrez helps them because at one point he was rewarded the same help.

“I’m just trying to give back what the Victory Outreach did for me,” he said. “They had hope for me when nobody else did.”

Gilbert Ayala, a resident in the community, said Gutierrez encouraged him to attend bible study classes at Victory Outreach and helped him understand bible verses when he had questions.

Gutierrez aims to help people on the wrong path realize that there is hope and a way to find it. He especially wants to reach young people so they don’t get lost in the world of drugs, gangs and violence early on.

“They got so much potential and there’s so much out there,” he said.

The only real regret Gutierrez has is becoming an active member at Victory Outreach 16 years ago, rather than 50, he said.

“People fall off the right path,” said Gutierrez’ younger sister, Rosemary Sierra. “But I’m really glad my brother found God and a better path.”

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