Expanding The Definition of Fatherhood: Iran Nazario & More Than a Few Good Men

June 19th, 2016 by Bita Milanian - 2 Comments

On this Fathers’ Day, as we are all still trying to process the most recent tragedy in Orlando, I’m honored to share the story of a remarkable man.

2Iran Nazario continues to dedicate his life to eliminating gang warfare in Hartford, Connecticut while sharing his own life story, his strength and his philosophy to contribute to a more peaceful world. Today, Iran is a very busy and successful consultant, trainer and community leader and director at COMPASS Youth Collaborative.

Iran’s story was covered early on by the New York Times, back in 1997:

“As he cruised down Broad Street past a mean stretch of gutted buildings, Mr. Nazario, 27 years old, recalled how his own rage as a teen-ager landed him in jail and drove him to join a gang. He told of a mother addicted to cocaine who nearly overdosed, of a drunken father who once punched him in the chest breaking his sternum, of growing up in a housing project infested with cockroaches and of living on the streets by the age of 12.

On these streets such grim histories are as plentiful as heroin or crack, he said. ”These kids have the same kind of background that I had, and that’s what drives them out here. You turn to the people on the streets and that’s your family and they hug you and give you love and protection and all the things that you couldn’t get at home. And until we find alternatives for these kids, besides throwing them a basketball, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Those who know Mr. Nazario say it is something of a miracle, given the odds, that he has traveled so far. In recent years he has gained a reputation as an effective youth counselor, gang mediator and translator of the streets. In the process, his admirers say, he has saved many young lives. In 1994 he was hired by the head of the Hartford Housing Authority to dispel gang tensions in its projects. He now does similar work for the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Violence Reduction and leads an after-school program on street survival skills for children throughout the Hartford community.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nazario’s history as a leader of Los Solidos during the 1993 and 1994 gang war with the Latin Kings, has clouded his reputation and his future. Indicted along with some 50 other Solidos gang members in 1995 for violent crimes and drug offenses, he now awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to lesser charges of concealing a murder and an arson. Each count is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison.”

Iran is no stranger to controversy, and is a fearless storyteller who today is the respected and effective Director of COMPASS Peacebuilders and Community Relations, leading a team of 16 men and women whose goal is to decrease the level of youth violence throughout the city. Since the program began, COMPASS Peacebuilders has served over 3,000 youth and has a success rate of over 80%.

From Incarceration to Inspiration


In June of 2015 Iran was “Badged” by the Hartford Connecticut Police Department to serve as a community/law enforcement partner. In this role, Iran is serving as an intermediary in city wide crisis situations under President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper.

Iran’s willingness to share his life, including making a very hard and sure decision to not retaliate after his brother was murdered, makes him the perfect man to bring other young men who are struggling with poverty, violence, substance abuse and more to find strength inside themselves, and connect with a single purpose: peace.


Iran, his team and youth in Hartford benefiting from the COMPASS Collaborative Peacebuilders program, featured on National Public Radio’s “Violence in Our Lives” Project.

In this recent interview with Chris Grasso, “discusses his younger years of abuse as a child which was one of many life circumstances which led him to a life of gangs and crime; how hitting rock bottom became a catalyst for him to change; the importance of parents engaging with their children; learning to forgive ourselves and others; cultivating self-love and compassion; how our youth can begin to make significant changes for the better in their lives and much, much more!”

All Men Have the Potential to be Great Fathers

So what does this have to do with fatherhood? Iran believes in the power of men in changing the way boys grow up and become strong young men. For the thousands of boys and young men Iran has personally counseled, Iran is a “father figure” – setting a lasting example that resonates far beyond what we can ever understand.

Iran is humble – he is gentle – he is grateful – and he is driven by an energy that comes out of his own struggles and transformation, including traumas that started literally in the womb when his mother was violently abused by his father.  Iran believes he was addicted to aggression and violence in his youngest years, began hurting his own siblings, and began to see himself as this kind of person. Violence defined him. He joined his first crew at 11 which lead to gang violence, and incarceration.

The Choices We Make Can Change the Future
His turning point came when made a choice to not retaliate when his brother was murdered. This choice redefined his identity and his life.

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Iran, hosting Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at a rally in Hartford, CT to reduce gun violence, April 21, 2016.

6Today, Iran is more active than ever as a respected visionary – a respected man – now working on a book titled “The Colors I See.”  A self-taught, self-motivated, and committed man, Iran Nazario exemplifies the opportunities that are within each of us, when we are willing to look inside, and live in love.

Iran was never taught how to properly parent and yet received the first ever Fathers Are Key award in 2007 for his dedication to his children’s well-being and success and for his commitment to other children in the community.  Gratitude on this Father’s Day to Iran and all the men who experience fatherhood in different ways, with a special hello to Iran’s own children, his daughter (22) and son (15) who no doubt will continue their father’s legacy of love and acceptance, service – and above all, peace.


p.s.: I asked Iran about the origin of his name, given that I was born in “Iran” – he explained that his mother liked the Biblical Hebrew name ‘Hiram‘, but when she named him, she chose to spell it as ‘Iran’ with a twist.  We were definitely destined to connect and for me to have the privilege to tell his story on this special day.

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