Here in Miami, Just Like We Are
In this unflinching and inspiring memoir, Jesse Leon tells an extraordinary story of resilience and survival, shining a light on a childhood spent devastated by sex trafficking, street life, and substance abuse.
"A book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all." —Sandra Cisneros, bestselling author of The House on Mango Street
Born to indigenous working-class Mexican immigrants in San Diego in the 1970s, Jesse Leon’s childhood was violently ruptured. A dangerous and harrowing encounter at a local gift shop when he was eleven years old left Jesse with a deadly secret. Hurt, alone, and scared for his life, Jesse numbed his pain by losing himself in the hyper-masculine culture of the streets and wherever else he could find it—in alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. Overlooked by state-sanctioned institutions and systems intended to help victims of abuse, neglected like many other low-income Latinos, Jesse spiraled into cycles of suicide and substance abuse.
I’m Not Broken is the heartbreaking and remarkable story of the journey Jesse takes to win back his life, leading him to the steps of Harvard University. From being the lone young person of color in Narcotics Anonymous meetings to coming to terms with his own sexual identity, to becoming an engaged mentor for incarcerated youth, Jesse finds the will to live with the love and support of his family, friends, and mentors. Recounting the extraordinary circumstances of his life, Jesse offers a powerful, raw testament to the possibilities of self-transformation and self-acceptance. Unforgettable, I’m Not Broken is an inspirational portrait of one young man’s indomitable strength and spirit to survive—against all possible odds.
About the Author
Jesse Leon is a social impact consultant to foundations and investors on ways to address issues of substance abuse/addiction, affordable housing, and mental health. He is a native English and Spanish speaker and fluent in Portuguese. He is an alum of UC Berkeley and Harvard and based in San Diego.
AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • One of the Best Books of the Year: The San Francisco Chronicle and Book Scrolling
"I’m Not Broken is a book for survivors and those who know someone they hope survives, bodhisattvas all."
"Leon's memoir is a powerful, raw chronicle of survival that morphs into a moving story about mentorship, strength, familial love, self-transformation, the power of education, and the importance of self-acceptance."
“A book detailing Mr. Leon’s battles against unparalleled circumstances, from poverty to addiction to assault, can be at once a critical look at the ways in which we fail young people in our communities and also a story of how, by the grace of God, we find in our midst a man like Jesse Leon, making sacrifices so that others might not suffer.”
—Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award winner for Moonlight
“This emotionally unyielding memoir recounts a life lived with no shortage of harrowing experiences, but also a life renewed thanks to a profound inner strength and an unrelenting determination to overcome.”
—Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
“I'm Not Broken is a powerful reminder that the human spirit can truly be resilient when it's fed by faith, love and hope.”
—Pedro Noguera, Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education
“A raw and riveting testimonio of loss, hope, and liberation! Jesse Leon’s I’m Not Broken will claim its rightful place alongside seminal memoirs like Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, and Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold.” —Gilberto Q. Conchas, Wayne K. and Anita Woolfolk Hoy Endowed Professorship of Education, The Pennsylvania State University
“As Jesse Leon writes at the end of this powerful work, ‘bootstrapping’ doesn’t quite capture his life’s journey. To be sure, there is personal inspiration in Jesse’s story. But there is also deep understanding of family, community, ethnicity, and society in this book—all of which Jesse captures with perspective and insight that we all need.”
—Professor Joseph Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University
“I’m Not Broken is a brave and inspiring story of triumph over adversity. Jesse Leon overcame many barriers on his route to graduate school. His story illustrates the value of perseverance towards educational attainment.”
—Professor Christopher Avery, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School
"I'm Not Broken is an introspective, critical examination of one person's resiliency and determination to achieve success. Jesse Leon shares his self-reflection on personal and familial struggles in the context of societal prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to needed services. This book is a perfect read for a class on human behavior and the environment." —Dr. David Pate, Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare
“I'm Not Broken should be a required reading for every future educator, social worker, counselor, or mental health worker. Jesse Leon reminds the reader of the depth and complexity of every human we meet and their potential to emerge from even the darkest of spaces. He offers his vulnerability, so that we, as a society, can look at ourselves and begin the work to find solutions and change.”
—Jennie Luna, Ph.D., Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies at California State University Channel Islands
"A raw, emotional memoir filled with highs and lows. The inspirational ending gives readers hope when Leon uses his self-will and determination to change and accept the love from those around him."
—Library Journal, starred review
"Viscerally moving . . . A remarkable story of fortitude and personal transformation."
"A staggering tale of survival . . . Leon’s story of resilience pulsates with verve and breathtaking grace. The result is a gripping portrait of perseverance that radiates with humanity."