When Texas A&M Corps of Cadets Commandant Brig. Gen. Joe E. Ramirez was growing up, things weren’t always easy.

Raised in Houston’s Second Ward, his older brother ended up in prison, and friends encouraged him to join their local criminal gang. Instead, Ramirez opted to finish high school and, with every milestone he achieved as the years progressed, he said, his friends from home would tell him he’d never succeed. His response: “Watch me.”

On Wednesday, Ramirez spent about an hour at the Brazos County Administration Building speaking to two dozen boys and girls overseen by Brazos County Juvenile Services. Those in attendance — ranging in age from 12 to 17 — were all under some form of legal supervision, whether it be probation or court supervision. Ramirez told the group their past decisions did not have to determine who they will become.

“Make no mistake about it, every single one of you has the potential to be whatever it is you want to be,” Ramirez said. “I don’t care what it is. There is nothing out there in today’s society you can say that you can’t do.”

Ramirez proceeded to ask each teen what they want to be once they reach adulthood. For each dream, he provided words of affirmation. He urged the kids to continue to work hard in school, and for those wanting to enter a physically demanding career, to exercise and increase their performance levels.

Ramirez then encouraged all who felt comfortable doing so to come forward and take a challenge coin from him. He asked that they shake his hand, look him in the eye and make a promise to him that they will graduate high school and pursue their professional dreams. He also asked that any time they look at their challenge coin, they remember that they promised him to do so. Slowly, one by one, many needing encouragement, the youths approached him. He took the hand of a swaying, reluctant young man whose gaze fell to the floor, and he asked for that promise before embracing him in a quick hug to the sound of applause. He took the hand of a girl wearing an ankle monitor, who expressed a dream of attending law school. He looked into her eyes with sincerity as he handed her a challenge coin. One boy leaned in and softly spoke of an issue he was having at his school. Ramirez withdrew a business card from the breast pocket of his uniform and told the young man to call him any time he needed guidance.

Soon at least half of the group had approached him for a challenge coin, and several more chose to approach once his speech had ended and the crowd started to disperse.

“I have great hope for each of you, every single one,” he said.

Juvenile probation officer Carol Jackson said she had invited Ramirez for his first appearance in 2018, and he had been eager to accept the invitation.

“The kids from last year [told us] about how they liked him coming, and they appreciated it,” Jackson said. “Kids are kind of funny in that they don’t want to talk about the impact it made, but you could tell in their faces.”

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