A friend to the outsider and a compassionate advocate for those without a voice, former mentor Matt Sanchez was remembered Saturday, as more than 1,500 people packed Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre to celebrate his life.
Sanchez, a former Eastside gang member-turned-leader for local youth, died Aug. 7 from complications of liver cancer. He was known for his efforts with All for One, the nonprofit group he founded to help divert young people from gang life by pairing them with mentors and guiding them toward positive activities.
In addition to his community involvement, Sanchez was a barber at his family-owned Montecito Barbers on Coast Village Road, where he had worked since 1991.
Sanchez’s legacy of outreach was reflected among those in attendance, with people from all walks of life streamed into the standing room-only theater for the memorial service.
Just outside, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles lined the front of the theater. Friends rode in formation, with one space between them vacant for Sanchez, on the way to the ceremony.
Friend and All-for-One associate sirector Rich Muñoz delivered an invocation. The Rev. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based outreach organization for formerly incarcerated people and gang members, provided the eulogy.
Boyle spoke of the New Testament account of the friends of the paralytic man, who lowered him into a crowded house where Jesus was teaching so the man could be healed.
“Matt Sanchez was the guy on the roof,” Boyle said, with tears in his eyes. “He ripped off the roof so that the people outside could come in.”
Because of Sanchez, he said, the circle of compassion widened and those outside kept being brought in to find hope for a life outside of gangs and violence.
The grief over the loss of Sanchez was evident in the tears shed by each speaker, but laughter was also sweet in their midst.
Especially moving during Saturday’s ceremony were the memories shared by three of Sanchez’s children, and his son, Manuel, said he looked up to their dad as a “superhero.”
“One of my favorite questions I used to get asked was, ‘Are you Matt’s son?’” recounted his son, Josh. “I would always answer proudly because he was something to be proud of.”
Sanchez’s daughter, Adrianna, also shared about her dad singing “My Girl” to her as a child, bearing through her adolescent struggles and walking with her down the aisle at her wedding.
She told the audience she used to be jealous of his work with youth because she felt like it took time away from her, but “it has made my dad’s legacy stronger and given us friends to count on.”