Photo of Jessel Recinos riding a bike

Skate Brothers

A role model and a skate club keep Honduran youth away from gang violence

Jessel Edgardo Recinos

By all accounts, Jessel Edgardo Recinos should be dead.

After the 24-year-old was wrongly accused of stealing the cell phone of a dangerous criminal, a hit was placed on his life. He was just 16.

The man’s 9-millimeter pistol put a bullet through Jessel’s back, narrowly missing his lungs, ribs and heart. “It was a case of death,” Jessel explains.

Jessel collapsed in the street.

A group of youth brought him inside until his mom arrived, tears streaming down her face.

That was the moment Jessel realized he needed to make a change.

Xray from the gunshot wounds. Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID
Jessel and his mother talking
Jessel at his home reading a book

That gunshot changed Jessel.

Murder capital of the world

Jessel grew up in Cofradía, a town outside of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city that has been called “the murder capital of the world.” He watched people become numb to senseless violence like the gunshot that nearly killed him. He knew he had to do something about it.

“I didn’t want to seek revenge,” Jessel said, “because the bullet not only pierced my flesh, my skin—it pierced that life that I was living. It ended this mentality that I had and changed it into something positive."

Jessel and the Skatebrothers playing soccer
A member of the SkateBrothers breakdancing. Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID

That is when he decided to create Skate Brothers.

Skate Brothers is a club where at-risk youth learn rollerblading, skateboarding, BMX and breakdancing.

Since it was formed in 2011, the group has grown to about 50 members who perform in street fairs and parades and volunteer to support their community.

Skate Brothers is about more than just sports. It’s about instilling values in the kids and counseling them on how to best live their lives.

A member of the SkateBrothers on a BMX bike, Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID
A member of the SkateBrothers in action on a skateboard, Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID
A member of the Skatebrothers breakdancing
A member of the SkateBrothers rollerblading. Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID

“Youth who don’t have anything to do, they look for a group that gives them love or gives them affection,” Jessel said. “And what a shame how some of them choose criminal groups that commit illegal acts.”

“My guys, my sheep”

Jessel created Skate Brothers so these kids could find a sense of belonging without turning to gangs. “I call them, my children, my guys, my sheep,” he says.

In the town park, where Skate Brothers practices, Jessel greets the kids with fist bumps and hugs. They follow him gleefully. Jessel asks them about their day, how things are going in school. He acts like an involved parent, sometimes meeting with their teachers and school principals. He invites them to his home to eat guacamole, carne asada and baleadas—a traditional Honduran dish consisting of a flour tortilla filled with mashed fried beans.

Jessel rollerblading
Jessel and the Skatebrothers
Jessel and the Skatebrothers

A cautionary tale

Jessel convinced one boy in his club to leave a gang by sharing his own near-death story as a cautionary tale.

“I told him the story with tears in my eyes because I was seeing the same life I had lived in him. I told him, ‘I love you a lot, and I want to help you if you let me. But I respect that the decision is yours.’”

A lifeline

Everything Jessel does is for the youth who look up to him. “I don’t want my kids to live a difficult life like I did,” he says.

To some, Skate Brothers might just seem like sports and fun, but Jessel understands that it’s a lifeline—a way to stay out of crime and violence.

Jessel and the SkateBrothers, Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID
Jessel and the SkateBrothers, Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID
A member of the SkateBrothers breakdancing. Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for USAID

About this story

The outreach center in Cofradía, Honduras, is one of nearly 200 that USAID has built in crime-ridden neighborhoods around Central America to give at-risk youth a safe space to have fun, learn valuable life and job skills, and stay away from drugs and gangs. It is run by Creative’s Alianza Joven Honduras program.

These centers are one way that USAID seeks to address the factors causing young people to attempt a costly and dangerous migration to the United States—including insecurity, crime and a lack of economic and educational options.

In Honduras—one of the most violent countries in the world—nearly 50 centers across the country provide a range of youth activities. They can come to learn how to use a computer or take English classes, receive job training, play instruments and games, get after-school tutoring, and socialize with other children in a safe, supervised environment.

Photos and video by Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID