BLINKY RODRIGUEZ IS A FORMER WORLD-CHAMPION kickboxer turned gang-intervention specialist. His main area of specialty is the San Fernando Valley, home, according to law enforcement, to 81 active gangs.
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Rodriguez has worked with kids since his kickboxing days in the ’70s. But, after his 16-year-old son, Sonny, was killed in a 1990 drive-by shooting in Sylmar, the work became personal. While some grieving parents might have been born again as law-and-order fanatics, Rodriguez decided his new life’s mission was to reduce gang violence by helping young homeboys find more peaceful, meaningful lives.
Since Rodriguez was a kickboxing legend, guys on the street would at least talk to him. (Rodriguez is in the Martial Arts History Museum’s hall of fame, as is his wife, Lilly, another kickboxing champion, and his brother-in-law is Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a six-time world-champion kickboxer.) By 1993, Rodriguez had helped broker a peace treaty among 76 Valley gangs. The following year, the Valley’s gang homicides dropped from 56 to 2.
Predictably, the treaty didn’t last. Yet, over time, Rodriguez institutionalized his gang-intervention strategies in programs like the North Hills–based Communities in Schools, which he runs with longtime friend Robert Arias, in innovative cooperative ventures with the LAPD, and in the speeches he gives all over the country to spread his gospel of violence prevention. “But we still walk the streets here in the Valley,” he says. “If you want to reach people, sometimes you’ve just got to be out there.”