A Conversation with Jim St. Germain
Jim St. Germain grew up in Brooklyn and quickly adapted to the street life by stealing and selling drugs. At 15, he was arrested for dealing crack and placed in the Boys Town program. Jim thrived at Boys Town. He earned his GED, graduated from college, and moved back to New York to work with at-risk kids. He was appointed by President Obama to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He also found time to author his own personal memoir, A Stone of Hope.
Jim visited Boys Town to tell his story, answer questions, and give advice to current residents.
Watch the Conversation
Jim: My name is Jim St. Germain. I am from New York City. I'm an author, an advocate for young people, and Boys Town is home to me. Thank you.
Lisette: Start with kind of the beginning of your story. So, how did you end up at Boys Town?
Jim: I grew up in a very troubled home and the thing I learned early on as a kid was that you resolve things by being violent. That's what I was told. So, my life as a kid was pretty chaotic. Then, eventually, that gradually led me into the streets.
Jim: And so, the next thing, you know, I found myself in dealing crack cocaine at a young age and having run ins with the law. But what I did not know was that that very same asset was going to either lead you to a life in prison or six feet under. Because that's usually what happens. So, that's what led me into Boys Town in the first place.
Jim: But when I got there, I just thought that they were a bunch of weird people who wanted to control my life. So, I fought against it a lot and I did some pretty bad stuff, and they didn't kick me out. And I think, in a sense, I was looking for them to kick me out. I think as young people coming from my world, you're used to people giving up on you.
Jim: And so, it was shocking to me that Boys Town refused to give up on me. And at some point, what happened is that you grow, the model seeps in, and then you realize like, "Man, I can actually gain the same things that I'm trying to gain by just doing the right things. Where I don't have to fight constantly anymore." You become invested emotionally into your family-teachers.
Jim: You understand that this job is not just a job for them, it's a way of life. That the things you do impacts them personally. And you understand that they don't owe you anything, and the things that they do for you beyond what the job requires is because they truly want you to have a better future.
Jim: And I've always thought that the journey that I went through, the pain, the suffering, even all the beauties, they weren't meant for me to keep to myself. I think they were meant for me to give back to the world, especially to this crowd so they can perhaps relate to my journey. And, you know, I just want to emphasize that paying it forward is the most important thing we can do.
Jim: With the right education, there is no other group of people I would want to make decisions for kids than you guys sitting in this room. One of my favorite quotes is that those closest to the struggles should be closest to the solutions. So, you not only have an obligation to be great, but you have an obligation to be great and then fight for the young person that you were.