If you read Turtleboy Sports, you’ve most likely seen a couple of hit pieces about a friend of mine, Dante Comparetto. As is usual, Turtleboy gets it wrong. This time, though, they’ve actually stumbled upon something: the reason Worcester residents should vote for Dante for school committee.
In the Holden, Mass.-based blog, which operates as a propaganda outlet for Worcester Republican city committee chair Michael Gaffney, Aidan Kearney (the blog’s owner and main author) called a Dante a “junkie” and loser. After a Turleboy reader stuffed a racist note in Dante’s mailbox, Aidan posted yet another story to his Turtleboy site, this time claiming that Dante created the flier himself, just like he claimed that no one could possible use the N-word at Fenway Park. (Aidan’s flimsy argument around the flier is easily dismantled – keep a watch out for that post).
In typical Turtleboy fashion, Aidan went to Google and dug up every mistake or violation of the law Dante had committed, and posted it all online, portraying my friend as a “junkie” and a “dangerous piece of shit.”
Aidan condemned Dante for his “association” with me, accusing me once again of being a communist. I’ve already cleared up their lies about me, so there’s no use in going into that here.
Anyone who knows Dante Comparetto knows about his experience with addiction, for two reasons: it’s something he’s very up front about, and it’s what motivates him. The first time I learned of his past struggles was at his house, when I offered him a beer. “No thanks,” Dante replied cheerfully, explaining briefly his past addiction and what he calls “bad choices I made.”
When Dante was 14, he ran away from home, ending up on the West Coast. Things spiraled out of control for him: he ended up on the streets on the West Coast, and entered a life of drugs, buying and selling. Things spiraled further out of control and, as he tells it, “My friends were either getting locked up or killed. And when I was 17, I was almost killed.”
Dante decided he needed to turn his life around – and he did. He returned to Worcester and attended Quinsigamond Community College and then Worcester State University, where he graduated with a degree in political science and was part of the urban studies program, and became a small business owner.
That’s how Turtleboy gets it wrong. Dante’s story not one of “ratchetry,” but of redemption. And it goes beyond that: Dante understands how easy it is for life to slip out of control – from experience. And from experience, he knows how hard it is to successfully return to being a productive member of society. That experience motivates him to help others who might be at risk, or who might have already succumbed to “the risk.”
I actually asked him some time ago why he doesn’t just focus on the juice bar he owns and enjoy his success. “I wanted to help people that were in a situation that was similar to the one I was in,” he replied. That’s what he’s been doing. For example, he helped created the Worcester branch of Stand Up For Kids, which is dedicated to working with homeless and at-risk youth. Stand Up lists many achievements, but here’s just one: their counselors contacted 674 youths in 2016, and provide services to 111 youths who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.
Other accomplishments include joining the Worcester Public Library’s board of trustees. While there, he helped launch the One City, One Library program, a partnership between the city and the library to open libraries in schools that don’t have a functioning one. Reading is a critically important skill for kids to learn by grade four, studies have found, and not developing this ability by then correlates strongly to dropping out of high school. The library’s program aims to improve this.
The list of things Dante Comparetto has worked on to benefit our city – co-chairing the Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Council, serving on the Worcester Arts Council, etc. – is long. I encourage you to look into it more.
Dante is the kind of person we want in our city. He’s motivated to help those who need it and that motivation comes from his lived experience. Also, in a city that, like others across the northeast, is experiencing the opiate epidemic, don’t we want to tout and promote the success stories?
I have worked in the Worcester Public Schools myself, so I know that we’ve got good kids in Worcester (again, contrary to Turtleboy Sports, which portrays them as “savages”), and I love working with them. The students are smart and savvy, and they come from all over the world, making the school system, even more than the city itself, a rich tapestry that we can be proud of.
The kids also have challenges that kids in more affluent school districts don’t have. According to the Department of Education, most of the kids in Worcester Public Schools (76.3 percent) are classified as “high needs,” and most (57.2 percent) are economically disadvantaged. 53.5 percent of the kids speak a first language other than English, and a third (34.2 percent) are English-language learners.
Kids in Worcester schools face adversity. Some have already committed crimes, some are in criminal gangs, and some are already on a path of destruction. For people like Aidan Kearney and Turtleboy Sports sponsors, these kids are expendable “savages,” but Dante understands they can be steered onto a better path.
Having someone on the school committee who understands how getting on the wrong life path can happen, and how hard – but possible! – it is to come back from it, would be an invaluable addition – besides being a stellar example to any of the kids who are in trouble already.