Gilian Villatoro

Gilian Villatoro is my conversation partner today. He was born into a family that migrated to the US from Central America before he was even born. His educated father left behind privilege and family in order to start out fresh on his own in The North. They settled in LA where Ian now works as the National Operations Manager for Defy Ventures. He has an intimate understanding of the prison system as he also spent 12 years incarcerated. Not only did he better himself, earning 5 college degrees while in prison, he also had a hand in changing the entire educational system at the maximum security facility where he resided - all because somebody believed in him. We have a very compelling discussion about the importance of education inside the walls of prison, emotional literacy, and the hands-on, life-changing work of Defy Ventures.
Ian's insight as to how the rest of society views and judges the incarcerated is spot on. I really appreciate his counter argument against that mindset. I love how he appeals to our humanity by reminding us that they are just people who were shaped by a certain set of circumstances which eventually influenced who they became. It's not an excuse, it's one explanation that helps us put the shoe on the other foot for a minute. What would you have done had you grown up in these set of circumstances? When we can see ourselves in the other, we tend to be less judgemental.

I love that Ian brought up the topic of how he saw the world and himself differently as he educated himself. That's the whole point of education - isn't it?! Oliver Wendell Holms, Sr. is quoted as saying, "The mind once expanded by the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size." This is exactly what happened to Ian. He couldn't go back to being the person he was before he entered prison. Education changed him.

I wanted to stand up and cheer when Ian said, "In life,  in business, whatever it may be, you don't know what you want until you know who you are." What wisdom that is! This is why we need to work on personal development and growth and self-reflection no matter who we are or where we are in life. I like how he said that Defy is in the business of human development. They are reinvesting in humanity and they are doing it through entrepreneurial education. George Washington Carver once said, "Education is the key that unlocks the golden door to freedom.” Ian found this to be true inside the walls of prison. Education helps bring hope, direction, purpose, and the freedom to break down the walls of our own mental and emotional prisons we create for ourselves. May we all continue educating ourselves to not only better our own lives, but to help better the lives of others...just as Ian has.

Ian's Quote: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” - Maya Angelou

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