KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of the people keeping Kansas City safe has a slightly different perspective on freedom, safety, and security than many others.

KCPD Officer Daniel Hernandez started his long journey to the United States in the late 1990’s in Cuba, when his family was looking to get out.

“The reason we came to the states is because my father was a political refugee back in Cuba and he was incarcerated for roughly six years,” Hernandez said.

But when Pope John Paul II visited, Cuban leadership released political prisoners as a show of goodwill.

“I don’t remember much but I know when the Pope when to Cuba, that’s when it happened, a couple of weeks later, he was home,” Hernandez said.

He was out of prison but still needed to get out of Cuba. That started the process that lead to a more than 1,600 mile jourey to North Kansas City.

Hernandez was safe, but he was on his own.

“I spoke zero English,” Hernandez said.

But he’d learn through middle and high school, having to quickly grow up to help the rest of his family.

“Our obstacles were translating for our parents,” Hernandez said. “Translating for their bank statements, medical records, food stamps.”

After high school, Hernandez eventually found his way to the Marines, fighting for the same freedom his family had to leave Cuba to secure.

“I knew I was always fighting for freedom and that’s the mission we had in mind,” Hernandez said. “Always, in the back of my head, I knew I had to give something back to this great country that gave me the opportunity to be here and have a life.”

When his time in the military was over, he found a similar comradery and purpose in the Kansas City Police Department. Eventually, he became a Community Action Network Center officer, bridging the gap between the department and the people they keep safe.

“That allows me to go back and talk to my own teenagers that were coming up, speak the same language that I do, and pretty much telling them to put the guns down and find a new avenue of approach when it comes to their problems,” Hernandez said.

Drawing on his long, challenging journey to the metro to empathize with Kansas City’s young people and, in Hispanic communities, speak their language figuratively and literally.

“The kids can see themselves on me, especially if they’re coming from an immigrant family and it’s like, ‘OK, I don’t have to steal, I don’t have to commit a criminal action in order to survive,” Hernandez said.

If you want to learn more about the Community Action Network Centers, click here.