Alex LeVesque is the founder of the Automotive Mentoring Group (AMG), a nonprofit that works to counter gang violence in the city of Chicago, Illinois. The organization recruits gang members from across the city and teaches them the skills needed to build careers as auto mechanics, thus giving a chance at reform to those who would otherwise likely fall victim to violence in the streets.
AMG provides these services free of charge. What Alex does receive in return is the knowledge that he is saving lives, providing disenfranchised young men with an avenue to become integral parts of society.
What Inspired Alex LeVesque to Start Automotive Mentoring Group?
Alex claims that philanthropy was not something that was instilled within him growing up. Instead, it was “sort of a God-given instinct.” Being a resident of Chicago, he has seen first-hand the detrimental impact of gang violence. According to NBC Chicago, 2021 alone saw 3,561 shooting incidents and 797 homicides in the city. The majority of these homicides were the results of “conflicts between rival gangs.”
“I’m very mad about everything I see,” Alex remarked. “I’m mad about these Black and Brown boys killing each other over shoelaces. I’m mad about these drive-by shootings… I want to be that alternative.”
What Makes Alex LeVesque an Everyday Hero?
With nearly three decades of experience in the automotive industry, Alex doesn’t need to operate AMG to make a living. But his motivation isn’t money: it’s righting the wrongs that he sees in the world. Currently, there are over 100,000 active gang members in Chicago. Where the system fails in implementing social change, everyday heroes like Alex pick up the slack. He is a beacon of hope for people who wish to escape a violent environment.
Alex LeVesque Provides Mental Health Resources, Education, and Job Opportunities
Alex does more than just teach his mentees to be mechanics. He addresses the root causes of gang violence. Crime in general has historically stemmed from inadequate access to resources. Because of this, Alex makes every effort to give his students the means to become successful. From providing food to mental health resources, he leaves no need unattended to.
“Once I started trying to teach these guys, I realized that a lot of the reason that their behavior was so erratic was that they were dealing with pent up trauma that was never addressed in their earlier lives,” Alex said. “We’ve made it possible for them to have some one-on-one time with a psychologist.”
To inspire his mentees, he takes them on field trips that expose them to what life can be like once they graduate. Each trip is typically to one of AMG’s 82 hiring partners, who are willing to give jobs to anyone who successfully completes the program.
In addition to hiring partners, AMG has relationships with several alternative high schools, which allow mentees to earn their GEDs. Alex is a firm believer in the importance of education, as it can only make his students more hireable. About 90% of them do not have a high school diploma, which severely impacts their ability to climb the social ladder.
Considering the harsh conditions that many AMG mentees were raised in, it makes sense that they often view success as a foreign concept. However, their time in the program opens their minds to what they can achieve.
“The only way that you can truly be successful in changing what a person does is changing the way they think,” Alex commented. “And the only way you can change what a person thinks is through exposure, exposing them to many things so that they can dream bigger.”
Alex LeVesque on the Importance of Fatherhood
According to Alex, a major contributing factor to young people joining gangs is the lack of a father figure. In fact, about 95% of his students grew up without fathers. For them, Alex tries to take on this role, leading by example so that one day they will become caring parents themselves. Some of them are already parents.
“Yes, I’m trying to make them into car builders,” he asserted. “But there’s a much bigger picture than that. I’m trying to create human beings that contribute positively to society. I am trying to build better mothers and fathers… I have 17 year-old kids in the program who have two year-old sons and daughters.”
Aside from Alex, AMG has nine other volunteer mentors. Having other role models is important for Alex, as some students may need support that he cannot give. With a variety of recruits comes a variety of personalities and needs.
What Has Alex LeVesque Accomplished Through AMG?
AMG has helped hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women find employment in the automotive industry. These mechanics may have otherwise lost their lives to gang violence. Alex is therefore not only saving lives, but he is breaking the all-too-common cycle of gang members not being able to escape the lifestyle.
One specific story that sticks out to Alex is the story of “Otis,” who by the time he entered the program, had already served two years for armed robbery. As he progressed through the program, however, he became committed to reform. Currently, he is a regional manager for O’Reilly Auto Parts.
“It was one of those moments where I looked up at the heavens, and I said, ‘Lord, I know you don’t work on the point system, but I hope that’s good for something,’” Alex stated.
Alex LeVesque on the Meaning of Heroism
When asked who he considers to be heroes, Alex said, “People like Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King: they changed the world. They changed countries in terms of their mindset and the kinds of ideals they had just for humans in terms of how we’re supposed to get along and treat each other.”
On the definition of a hero, he commented that “A hero is someone who can give a hand to someone who has a lot less. Not to say I have a lot, but the little I do have, I want to be able to share it.”
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“All of us are heroes in some way to someone,” he added. “In the world that we live in… everybody is always telling us that we should be mad. But nothing ever beats kindness. Whenever someone is unfair to me, my sarcastic way of dealing with that is being as kind as possible.”
Alex LeVesque Is a Hero
Since founding Automotive Mentoring Group, Alex Levesque has seen first-hand the potential we all have to be heroes. He is no more powerful than the average human being, but he uses the experience he has to instill positive change, to break the negative cycles that, for some, have come to define his city. He does not allow one’s past mistakes to affect his perception of them, as he believes that all people have the opportunity to reform.
He strives to be the push that his students need to better themselves. And through this work, he has helped would-be enemies make peace with one another.
“When you have these gang members from across the city that are working together in harmony, and they have no problems with each other, no gang fights, no shootings… Over time they begin to understand that there’s no difference between them,” he concluded. “So, if we can be friends here in this environment, why can’t we be friends outside of this environment?”