Jason Wang knows a thing or two about being an underdog. Growing up as an only child of two immigrant parents living through poverty and abuse, he knows all too well the challenges of overcoming obstacles to transform generational legacies of poverty, crime, and violence.
I had the great pleasure of meeting him earlier this year at a mentoring night for Defy Ventures, an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to men and women with criminal histories to help "transform their hustle." (Find a volunteer opportunity near you here!) Jason's radiance, joy and contagious positive energy blew me away. And then I heard his powerful comeback story and knew I had to share it with all of you. But first, a little context about what brought me to that mentoring night . . .
In the years since Pivot launched, I have developed a strong desire to work with those who aren’t fortunate enough to pivot by choice, or who are perhaps embarking upon one of the greatest pivot opportunities of their lives: rebuilding after poverty, homelessness, and prison.
Earlier this year, I blazed through Defy founder Catherine Hoke’s book, A Second Chance, with an urgency that I couldn’t explain. Simultaneously, I read books on addiction, ADD, and the mind-body stress-disease connection by Dr. Gabor Mate. Next I sought out further reading on our incredibly broken criminal justice system, and read dozens of stories of people who had been wronged or disadvantaged because of their race and economic circumstances in runaway bestsellers like Just Mercy, The Other Wes Moore, The New Jim Crow, and Hillbilly Elegy. I read about Father Gregory Boyle’s inspiring work to employ and empower former gang members in downtown Los Angeles in Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir.
Many, if not all, of the people described within the pages experienced unthinkable trauma as children. Drugs and criminal activity were not the problem, they were their attempted solution to the pain of disconnection. Their stories made me cry, and cracked my heart open in a thousand new places. Stories of intense physical, mental, and emotional abuse. One parent’s form of childcare for her son? Putting him in the dryer until she was ready to let him out again. Another’s involved asking her six-year-old to “just kill [himself] already,” for being such a burden, before dropping him off at an orphanage saying she had no clue whose child this was. Or like Jason whose father tried to kill him three times before he was ten years old.
As the authors above illuminate, many of these people never had a true first chance at life, let alone a second. Father Boyle describes as “a compassion that stands in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it.” It is with this reverence for the resilience of these incredible souls that I bring you Jason's story, and hopefully many more like it moving forward.
Check out full show notes from this episode with links to resources mentioned at PivotMethod.com/podcast/defy-jason-wang. Enjoying the show? Make my week by donating just $1 and episode at Patreon.com/pivot.