Congressman Lou Correa is no stranger to the city of Anaheim — to this day, when he isn’t in Washington, he lives only a few miles from his childhood neighborhood.
Correa grew up in Anaheim during a time when the city wasn’t as clean.
The Anaheim native shared his personal journey of struggle and success with the Anaheim Police Explorers, fulfilling a promise he had made to the teens last summer when they visited Washington, D.C.
Correa told them that if they ever invited him to come talk to the group in Anaheim, he would.
On Thursday, March 20, Correa addressed the department’s Explorer class along with Chief Jorge Cisneros in the Anaheim Police Department auditorium.
“There are a lot of things going on in D.C. and throughout the country,” Explorer program Lead Advisor Ed Arevalo said. “For him to come and spend any amount of time with us is greatly appreciated.”
“It’s very humbling to have someone so high in Congress take the time to talk to us about his beginnings,” Explorer Edgar Garcia added.
But the pleasure was all Correa’s.
“It’s an honor to be with all of you here today,” Correa said. “It brings back a lot of memories for me because I grew up right on the other side of Harbor Boulevard right off of Elm Street.”
Correa recounted his experiences growing up on the seedy side of town, in a neighborhood that no longer exists.
“I grew up in a time where smaller kids got beat up by the bigger kids,” Correa explained. “At nighttime I would hear the police officers running through our backyard chasing the older kids… but things have changed.”
Correa explained how growing up he never understood why the big kids were running into trouble with the law all the time. Later he and his friends would find out it was due to drugs and other illegal activities that went on in the streets of his neighborhood.
Living in neighborhoods like the one Correa grew up in, was all too familiar for some of the Anaheim Police Explorers.
“It’s hard growing up where a lot of our Explorers do, it takes a toll on a person,” Explorer Paul Rivera said. “I grew up around gangs and violence and made it out, made something of myself instead of just following the norm in that area.”
Correa also didn’t let his modest beginnings stop him from doing something better for himself.
“I tell people that I’m just a kid from the hood who got lucky and now is in Congress,” Correa said. “When I talk to my colleagues from around the country, I tell them stories of when I was growing up and about my goal to get out of the hood and never look back.”
Getting away from the crime-infested streets was far from easy.
During his time at Anaheim High School, Correa enjoyed playing sports but struggled to graduate.
“I remember one day my coach grabbed me and said, ‘You people don’t know what you could do,’ then he shoved me,” Correa said. “And I thought to myself, ‘What the hell is he trying to say?’”
“He was trying to tell me that I had more potential than I knew,” Correa said. “As you go through life you’re going to find out that the hardest person there is to convince about your potential is yourself.”
Correa Explained that after this interaction with his coach, he began making changes in his life. But not everybody saw the same potential in Correa as his coach did.
“When I told some people I was going to run for office, you know what they said?” Correa asked. “People looked at me and said ‘You? It’s not for you, you don’t fit the profile.’”
But if there was one thing Correa learned growing up, it was to never give up on his dreams.
“When you prove the experts wrong, that’s the greatest feeling,” Correa said. “People I never thought would come help me said, ‘Lou, we believe in you.’”
Correa reminded the Explorer class of this throughout his speech and told them they all have that same potential.
“I look out at all of you here and I see a lot of promise,” Correa said. “Continued promise in the future of what this country is and what it will be.”
Since a majority of the Explorers want to become officers one day, Correa began to shift the focus of his talk toward policing.
He told the Explorers how both the city of Anaheim and the relationships between citizens and police officers have shifted since he was growing up.
“The role of police officers has changed tremendously,” Correa said. “There’s lot of outreach to make sure that communities that traditionally have been isolated are now integrated.”
Despite police departments’ efforts to integrate officers with communities of all types, some civilians maintain skepticism towards policing.
“People will second guess what you do,” Correa said. “But I personally thank you for protecting that which is most precious to us. When I think about your job, being an officer, you got my full support. That’s why I hope you stay on, keep working hard, and follow your dreams.”
Helping the students to follow their dreams is just what Correa did.
“I thought it was very inspiring that someone from my neighborhood was able to reach a position in Congress,” Garcia said. “It really gave me more inspiration to pursue running for office later on.”
“Yeah him being homegrown here in Anaheim affected me because especially where I live, you wouldn’t really expect much to come out of the area first glance,” Explorer Angel Diaz added. “It gives me a lot of motivation to see what I can become as well, that the place you come from doesn’t really matter, it’s all really up to you.
Explorers Brandon Garcia and Hector Galeana agreed.
One Explorer asked what the stepping stones were to becoming a legislator.
Correa explained the best thing you can do if you want to become a legislator is to be a good citizen.
He encouraged the students to keep making good choices because when you run for office people will try to dig up anything from your past. However, if you were never involved in illegal or criminal activity, it will give you an edge when running for political office.
“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, don’t just do it because somebody is watching,” Correa explained. “So you ask what you need? To be a good citizen, do good work, and be a model (citizen).”
Arevalo applauded the group for staying on the right path.
“You guys got a good taste of what actually can happen though working hard. Every one of you are staying clear of all the issues that are getting people in trouble,” Arevalo said. “You guys amaze me every day on how well you are doing and how much you try not to fall into the pitfalls that other youth unfortunately fall into.”
Before leaving Correa offered the Explorers one last thing:
“My last completing words are that, if you ever want to sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk, let’s have a cup of coffee and talk,” Correa said.