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benny  rios  donjuán

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Benny Rios Donjuan was born and raised in the Pilsen community of Chicago, and he also resided in Cicero, Illinois, throughout his teens. Benny’s childhood was plagued by adversity. He was raised by his mom, who suffered from mental health issues, alcoholism, and depression—also by his grandma, an aunt, the local gang, and some of the other people in his neighborhood. He grew up with two older brothers; the oldest was wrongfully convicted of a murder when he was just 18, for which he served half of a 34-year sentence, and three years after that, his other brother was murdered when at 17 in a gang-related shooting.

Despite the trauma that Benny experienced throughout his childhood, adolescence, and young adult years, he was resilient and took on many responsibilities. With education, he had a very problematic journey up until high school because of gang confrontations. Ultimately, he dropped out in his sophomore year. He later enrolled to get his GED at Morton College and received his diploma when he was 17. He eventually graduated from the Computer Learning Center with a diploma in Computer Business Systems and Computer Networking.

Benny is an educator, servant-leader, and published writer. He is now a writing advisor and a teaching fellow with North Park University’s program at Stateville prison. He has co-produced a song, “Bring It Back,” along with his group “Hopeful Voices” through the rebirth of Sound Music Program at Stateville. He is also part of Highpoint Church Leadership Team, among other things. Benny earned his MA in Christian Ministry and Restorative Arts through North Park Theological Seminary in 2022. Currently, he is enrolled in Northeastern Illinois University’s University Without Walls program in collaboration with PNAP. He’s pursuing a BA with a Depth Area in Conflict Transformation and Transformative Practices.

When asked about his goals, Benny states, “My aspirations are many, but all have to do with serving and leading others and our communities. While in prison I make myself available in any way I can to uplift myself and our community by being an educator, a student, a counselor, and an advocate. At some point I’d like to start my own non-profit organization that serves returning citizens, the youth, and the loved ones of those incarcerated.” One of Benny’s main goals is to disrupt and dismantle all forms of injustice and violence through transformative practices. The driving force and motivation behind all of this is love: love for God, love for his fellow human beings, and love for himself.

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