Scholarship winner eager to give back to community
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Angel Cervantes’ parents own the appropriately named Hard Knocks Gym.
While competitive boxers train at the west Phoenix gym, other young people with problems at home or struggles in school go there to take a punch at stress in their lives.
“Boxers have taught me you can go past the limits of your body, where you think you don’t have any more to give,” said Cervantes, a Grand Canyon University justice studies student. “They know what hard work is like. They are the toughest people I know. From them, I got a sense of discipline.”
He credits his success to those around him who have set an example, including those boxers and his parents, Suzanne and Arturo Ortega. The sophomore recently was selected as one of two Arizona college students for the 2021 Arizona Justice Educators Association Scholarship.
“I was raised in that sense of giving back to community,” said Cervantes, who is also a Students Inspiring Students scholarship winner at GCU. “My mom taught me that you always have to love – not just the people you agree with – but everybody is deserving of love. We all come from God. We all come from humble beginnings, and no matter what you have, you put your best foot out there. You have to work hard because nothing is going to be handed to you.”
The Hard Knocks Gym, near 24th and Peoria avenues, was a big influence, but he’s learned from many others, including his grandfather and Kevin Walling, Chair of Justice Studies, Government and History in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“You can learn from everybody – athletes, my mom, mentors in my life have all taught me to have an open ear,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes wants to return the favor.
He wants to set up his parents to retire someday, “helping them the way they helped me,” and serve his community as a police department detective.
It’s difficult to be in law enforcement today. He wrote an essay for the AJEA scholarship competition that explored a growing distrust in the criminal justice system.
While his paper acknowledged that numerous instances of police brutality have emerged in recent years, Cervantes wrote that social media and news media are partly to blame with biased reporting that creates an “us vs. them” mentality between the public and police.
“I was raised with integrity, living out God’s plan for you and respecting authority,” he said in an interview. “Authority, a lot of people say today, is racist. It’s discriminatory against people like me and other fellow Latinos. I want to show people the justice system isn’t out to punish you for who you are. It should be impartial and not discriminatory. It can reform you.
“What I want to do with my career in justice is give back to the community. I know a lot of Latino families. They don’t have any way to get to school. They don’t have a way to secure a family. They don’t have a way to put food on the table every day.
“But I’ve seen a lot of Latino police officers have a strong identity with their culture. And I want to bring confidence back to my heritage as a result of my career.”
An AJEA review committee liked what it saw in awarding Cervantes the scholarship, focused on scholarship, community service and interest in criminal justice, said AJEA’s Doug Janicik. “He truly is a most deserving applicant.”
Cervantes already is setting an example in the community, tutoring high school students through the SIS program “to make their dreams come true because that dream was made for me.
“My (SIS) scholarship was my do or die to get into school. Honestly, it was my only way of possessing a higher education. It made a complete dream to me a reality.”
He’s also giving back at GCU as a leader in Honors VOICES, an Honors College service club, and plans to apply to be a resident assistant next year.
“Angel is showing the kind of decisiveness in students I like to see,” Walling said. “Ambition solidified into action is great to see in students.
“It is important for our students to engage academically so we can build better police officers for our communities, and I’m pleased to know our students are being recognized for that engagement through scholarships.”
Cervantes said he wants to show his community that people in law enforcement care.
“My mom always said to me that you’ve got to do the right thing even though no one is looking. Honor and respect your neighbor, serve the underserved and go out and give an ear and a shoulder, have a generous heart,” he said. “I think that can carry into the justice system.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.