Fortis Academy Graduate Julian Guerrero Paves the Way for Mental Health Advocacy

In August 2022, at Convocation, Superintendent James Colbert introduced Julian Guerrero, a Fortis Graduate who overcame addiction with the help of friends and teachers, during his speech. Colbert said Julian was an exceptional young man and encouraged him to look into the audience and see the faces that make up his support system.

“Julian, what I want you to see is this is your family,” Colbert said when he brought Julian on stage. “It is the people in this room that help you do what you do. We are so proud of you, and we love you.”

Former Fortis Academy student Julian Guerrero, center, poses for a picture with HCDE Assistant Superintendent for Academic Support Services Jonathan Parker, left, and senior director of schools Dr. Charles Ned, right.

In January, Julian took those words to heart and enrolled at the University of Houston with some help from his HCDE family and the director of the Cougars in Recovery (CIR) program. This week, he took another step forward on his path to success, being accepted into the National Mental Health America (MHA) Young Leaders Council. Guerrero is one of 10 college students nationwide selected to participate in the six-month leadership development project that helps create programs and initiatives regarding mental health support and resources for students nationwide. He is the only student chosen from Texas.

“I grew up watching how mental health affects people and know there is a stigma on the topic, especially with men,” said Guerrero. “I want to be part of the change that makes people feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings. If I had someone to talk to during my time of need, maybe I would’ve been influenced not to make some of the decisions I did.”

Guerrero faced substance abuse challenges while in high school but regained his sobriety with the help of Fortis Academy teachers and staff. He later joined the Harris County Department of Education family as an employee of the Records Management division, where he received continued support.

The CIR program is a residential collegiate recovery program that offers Guerrero a sober community environment and access to on-campus counselors. Undergraduates participate in annual collegiate recovery conferences to collaborate with students nationwide while enriching their recovery. Guerrero has been selected twice to participate in CIR’s Outdoor Adventure Learning Experience, rewarding recovery scholars with trips to national or state parks where they camp and hike while incorporating leadership development and team-building exercises.

Within his new role on the mental health council, Guerrero and his cohorts will create reports used by MHA to make policy and advocacy proposals, including updating federal regulations on mental disability-related discrimination and school mental health policies.

Guerrero is studying psychology and plans to return to his second family upon graduation, hopefully as a counselor at Fortis Academy.

“I want to come back and help people the way Fortis helped me and continues to help me,” said Guerrero. “I think it would be a full circle moment, and who knows, after that, maybe I can open a practice. That’s years down the line, but my motto is ‘small steps, long vision.’”

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