Hanna honors Giacomini brothers
TONY LA PERFORMS one of his dance moves as the Rev. John Crews and Enrique Gonzalez look on.
Tony La and Enrique Gonzalez have several things in common. Most notably: they aren't dead.
The two East Bay teens also aren't in prison, they don't deal drugs and they aren't trapped in dead-end lives defined by gangs, crime and violence.
They are also connected by their common experience of having come, however reluctantly at first, into the strict but loving embrace of the Rev. John Crews and the transcendent influence of Hanna Boys Center.
And that totally changed their lives.
Without Hanna, said Enrique, "I'd probably be in jail, I'd probably be a lowlife. Or dead."
Agreed Tony, "I'd be, like, a gangsta on the south side of Richmond."
Tony and Enrique are now set on a path denied to most of the friends they once had in Richmond and Oakland. They're both going to college, they have career plans, and each has a personal passion.
Tony, at 17, is the old man of the student body, in that he's been at Hanna the longest, a resident there since he was 13. In the past four years, he has discovered who he is, and he has unfolded, like an elegantly-wrapped package what some people would describe as a gift. The kid can dance. Really, really dance. Hip-hop, break dancing, whatever. In February he performed in a musical revue at the Sebastiani Theatre called "MJ - It's All For Love," a Michael Jackson tribute, and he blew his friends away.
"It was amazing," said Enrique, "I didn't know he had that."
MJ was Tony's coming out, and since then he's grown comfortable in the role of performer and dance teacher, spending time coaching kids at Sonoma Valley High School, where both he and Enrique are students; and at the Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley.
Tony lives and breathes dance - "It's my dream thing," - but he knows he may need a day job so he's going to study chemistry at Sonoma State University, hopes to go to graduate school in L.A. and is aiming for a career in the pharmaceutical industry - at least in case the dance thing doesn't become a living.
Enrique is going to Chabot College in Hayward to study criminal justice. He wants to eventually attend the police academy and become a cop.
"I love helping people," he says, " and I want to do something exciting."
But for now Enrique finds plenty of excitement in sports, excelling in soccer, baseball and basketball.
Both boys participate in orientation groups for prospective Hanna students. Ask them how they explain Hanna to new kids and Enrique says, "By being totally honest with them, let loose, just talk real."
It's a skill they've learned from Crews, the master, the center's fabled executive director who levels with every kid, knows every kid by name, and doesn't let anyone into Hanna without a personal, sit-down interview and a signed contract.
The rules are strict, some kids don't make it, and some kids beg to come back.
Crews tells the story of a Hanna youth named Nick Giacomini who, with his brother, Adam, lived and struggled at Hanna, each boy being expelled. Nick, who attended from 1995 to 1998, was thrown out for breaking a rule but refused to accept the sentence. He approached Crews at a morning Mass and told him, Crews remembers, "You want me back."
"No, I don't," Crews replied. "Yes, you do," said Nick.
As Crews tells it, "He kept coming back, he wore me down."
But that's not the heart of the story. Giacomini had gotten into yoga, had no interest in college, but wanted to go to an Ashram in India.
"He knew I'd given another kid a scholarship to go around the world," Crews remembers. "So Nick laid out the plan and we advanced him the money, and he came back married."
It was a good investment. The Giacomini brothers, members of a prominent, extended West Marin family, are now on their way to fame and fortune. Nick is professionally known as MC Yogi and produces world famous yoga music videos - his "Elephant Power" CD has been one of the top 20 iTunes world music albums for two years.
Adam, meanwhile, is professionally known as DJ Amen and has become a wildly successful disc jockey and hip-hop producer with his own promotions company that is responsible for most of the major hip-hop events north of San Francisco.
The Giacominis will be honored during Hanna's annual Evening with the All Stars gala event April 30 at the center.
They will be joined by Tony La and Enrique Gonzalez, along with virtually the entire Hanna population, to put on a party that, said Enrique, is not just about raising money.
"I don't think it's even mostly about the money. They come here and we put on a show for them and tell them what Hanna's all about, what they really do here."
The show will also feature a dance performance in which Tony can show his stuff. It will be a night of dreams fulfilled, dreams born and dreams taking wing.
Seats are limited, but for ticket information and reservations, call 933-2555, or go online to hannacenter.org.