An alumnus of the Santa Ana Police Department’s Athletic and Activity League (PAAL), a community program focused on building bonds between kids and cops, returned to his old stomping groundings after recently graduating Harvard University.
Alexis Rodriguez Mejia, who grew up in the Santa Ana area, joined the PAAL program when he was around 10 years old. He said he knows what paths his life could’ve taken had he not been a part of the program.
“It was very kind of easy for me to go with the neighborhood kids and be steered…potentially in the wrong direction,” he said. “But due to this program and really having this opportunity kind of changed me.”
Not only is Mejia a graduate of one of the most prestigious universities in the country, he’s the first in his family to graduate from college.
Corporal John Holcomb, who runs the PAAL program and was happy to celebrate Mejia’s graduation, knows how hard it can be for kids in the neighborhood to avoid trouble.
“The area that we’re in right now at this location, we call this ‘safe central.’ Gang activity is prevalent, so what we try to do is get kids in our program between the ages of 7 and 10 and once they’re here, we keep them through high school.”
It was during the PAAL program, when Mejia was in ninth grade, that he created a vision board, envisioning he would one day graduate from Harvard. In 2019, he learned he’d been accepted and four years later, he walked across the university’s stage a new graduate.
“It’s kind of surreal. It’s an amazing kind of full circle moment for me,” Mejia said of revisiting the PAAL program facilities. “It really illustrates where little me, as I like to say, kind of first conceived the idea of going to college.”
As for what’s next, Mejia’s goal is to go to law school and become a lawyer.