The welfare of inner-city youth has been the focus of Danny Hernandez’ life. A product of gangs of South Central L.A. and East L.A.’s barrio “neighborhoods,” Danny never forgot his roots. With drive and determination, he has stayed true to his motto; “All kids are a lifetime investment.” The investment Danny Hernandez has contributed to the inner city of Los Angeles has been the growth of two of America’s most successful community-based, inner-city, youth organization and programs: The Hollenbeck Youth Center and The Inner-City Games.
Dubbed “Mr. Motivator” and “Barrio Buddy” by the Los Angeles Times, Danny has provided the inspiration and encouragement to the countless volunteers to pursue his commitment to the inner-city youth of Los Angeles.
Born in 1946, Danny was graduated from Boyle Heights’ Roosevelt High School. He was decorated for valor, including the Purple Heart, for combat service with the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War.
Danny returned to the East L.A. neighborhoods in 1981, joining the Hollenbeck Youth Center as Executive Director. He has accomplished what others felt impossible. Under his direction, Hernandez’ youth programs have multiplied, growing from an annual budget of $30,000, to city-wide and nationally acclaimed youth extravaganzas such as the Inner-City Games. In 1992, the Games alone touched the lives of over 100,000 youth, involved a one million dollar budget, and spawned the formation of the Inner-City Games Foundation. The Games today are hosted nationwide in 14 cities including Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Greater Atlanta, Greater Miami, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Jose.
Danny’s passion for his work is best illustrated by the impressive accomplishments of the Hollenbeck Center and its youthful participants. 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist boxer Paul Gonzales, himself known as “The Hollenbeck Kid,” carried Danny Hernandez’s dream onto the international stage. Los Angeles Police Officer George Lopez trained at the Center and competed during the 1988 Summer Games in Korea. In 1992, Oscar De La Hoya, a participant of the Inner-City Games, went to Barcelona and came back with gold.
Both Danny and the Hollenbeck Center have received national acclaim for youth delinquency prevention programs. The Inner-City Games started as little more than a vision to offset the poisonous impact of drugs, gangs and illiteracy on inner-city youth with constructive athletic competition; but, in Danny Hernandez’s mind, the Games also presented street kids with a once-of-a-lifetime chance to manage, organize, administer, referee, and otherwise take a positive hand in controlling the destiny of their program, and in that process, of their own destinies. In a single stroke, the way in which these kids viewed their “future” advanced from little more than “staying alive tomorrow” to the positive prospect of again helping to produce “next year’s Games”-the planning horizon moved from only one day in the future to one year in the future. The vision of a future for inner-city youth beyond “tomorrow’s” drugs, gangs and staying alive will possibly be Danny’s greatest legacy.
One particular program, which Danny believes embodies this spirit, is the Youth Ambassador Program. Created in 1995, the Youth Ambassador Program sought to expand educational opportunities available to local at-risk youth. To do this, the Inner-City Games formed a partnership with the Hollenbeck Youth Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District. This allowed the Ambassador program to couple credited supervision and training in education programs with exposure and involvement in community and civic events for local high school students, with the intention of encouraging high school students to become college bound.
The success of the Youth Ambassador program is well documented. Members not only have gone on to college, but many have received scholarships from USC, Morehouse, the University of California, Berkeley, and institutions within the Cal State system. It is Danny’s goal to expand this success across the greater Los Angeles area with the Los Angeles Inner-City Games.
Accomplishments such as these have been lauded by the residents of the neighborhoods, the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Marine Corps Commandant, and the President of the United States. Along the way, Danny has gained many influential supporters, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, former chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and current chairman of the Inner-City Games. In 1992, Danny not only received the American Youth Fitness Leaders Award in Atlanta, but also, at age 46, tried out for the U.S. Olympic Baseball team-and made the initial cut!
2000 marks the 28th year of Danny’s home-away-from home, the Hollenbeck Youth Center. In September of 1998, Danny completed a $2.3million expansion project, adding 15,000 square feet to the Center’s existing 10,500. The new addition houses new programs including gymnastics, theater and drama, dance and computer classes. The Youth Center serves 6,000 youngsters, with the new space, its capacity doubled.
Danny lives with his wife of 28 years, Beatrice in the East L.A. inner-city neighborhoods he has championed his entire life. His 22-year-old daughter, Priscilla, is a senior at UC Berkeley and two-time student body Senator.
Today, Danny is focused on bringing Internet access to the inner city and is working closely with Todd R. Wagner of Yahoo/Broacast.com & Jeff Mallett, Chief Operating Officer and President of Yahoo! His career aspirations all focus on the welfare of his beloved inner-city kids-his “lifetime investment.”