NOLA Activist Forgives the Men Who Nearly Took His Life

By Noelle de la Paz, crossposted from Colorlines. Last month, a random act of violence nearly took Rafael Delgadillo’s life. The 29-year old was at a stop sign in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans when two young men approached his vehicle in an attempted carjacking. As he drove off, they opened fire, shooting him in the head. Miraculously, he survived, although the bullet lodged in his brain still threatened to leave him without his eyesight.

Delgadillo, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, is an active community leader and youth mentor. He received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in History from the University of New Orleans. His work with Puentes, a non-profit community development organization for Latinos in the Greater New Orleans area, has garnered him support, respect and many friends—which was evident when over 150 people came together at the vigil held for him days after the shooting. The crowd was relieved to hear from Delgadillo’s father that their beloved Rafa had regained his sight, though not entirely. It continues to improve, slowly but surely.

For the dedicated activist, this experience has fueled his passion to continue the important work of mentoring young men of color, fighting the systemic issues of youth violence. While it would be easy for a victim of such a violent crime to succumb to anger or to the pursuit of punishment for the teenagers who did this to him, Delgadillo is of a greater vision. “If I had them face to face, I mean, I’d…I’d embrace them, you know. I’d forgive them,” he said.

The wisdom in his compassion is not hard to understand when the loving network of friends and family is revealed. That his father sees the assailants, two black teenagers, as victims themselves is telling. That a close friend’s words implore others not to not seek retaliation is significant. And when Rafael insists that he is lucky to have had his father in his life, his African American college professor as a mentor, and the director of Puentes take him under his wing in his professional growth, he notes his blessing that the most influential people in his life have been people of color.

As Rafael wells up with emotion thinking about all the people that live him, he reflects: “I was raised to treat people right, and not look for nothing in return. And that’s what I’ve done. And I’ve been doing the right things, apparently.”

It is no wonder that the outpouring of love and support he received mirrors his own.