Sunnyside High student named valedictorian years after father was killed working as street vendor

The teen's father, Lorenzo Perez, was shot and killed while working as a street vendor to provide for his family.

Jessica Harrington Image
Thursday, June 1, 2023
Sunnyside High student named valedictorian 2 years after father was killed working as a street vendor
The son of a murdered Fresno street vendor is set to graduate from Sunnyside High School at the top of his class.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The son of a murdered Fresno street vendor is making his family and community proud.

Isai Perez drew inspiration from his late father and is set to graduate from Sunnyside High School next week at the top of his class.

"I'm very, very nervous, of course, but also very excited," Isai said.

Isai went through virtual classes during Covid while navigating life without his biggest role model.

His father, Lorenzo Perez, was gunned down two years ago.

The 17-year-old has big dreams of becoming an educator.

He wants to help inspire students to be the best they can, and persevere, just like he did.

"Everything that I experienced, I don't want it to go in vain," Isai said.

Isai was a sophomore when his life changed in an instant.

His dad was a street vendor who worked long days to support his family.

Lorenzo was doing just that when he was shot and killed in broad daylight during a robbery in southeast Fresno.

Isai was left with his mom and three younger siblings.

In a 2021 interview with Action News, Isai questioned why someone would hurt his father.

"He was hard working. He really didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to go like this," Isai said.

The murder happened just days ahead of Isai's major AP Spanish test.

His Spanish teacher Rosa Gann tried to navigate how to help Isai emotionally and academically.

"I think it's been the hardest one I've had in my career," Gann said. "Every time before I start my class, I talked to him. 'How do you feel? How's everything?'"

Gann urged Isai to take time to grieve and schedule a makeup test, but he was determined to push forward.

Less than a week after his father was gunned down, he took the test and received a 5 -- the highest score possible.

"He never gave up. He never gave up," Gann said.

Police soon arrested Perez's alleged killer and street vendors united.

The city created a food vendor association working with local sellers to come up with ideas for better safety.

Isai said there have been times he thought he wouldn't make it to graduation day.

Despite the doubts Isai, with the support of teachers like Ms. Gann, knew he had to focus on the future.

"My mom, my siblings, like I still have them so I can't really give up. I have to keep pushing forward just like my dad did," Isai said.

So Isai took that approach and he excelled.

Next week he'll walk across the stage with the seal of bi-literacy, an award for attaining proficiency in English and Spanish.

He's also valedictorian and is graduating with a 4.22 GPA.

While his dad won't be able to watch him receive his diploma, he will be there in spirit.

"When I walk on that stage, I will be carrying his name with me and hopefully he's seeing me wherever he's at," Isai said.

Isai will be attending Fresno State where he will study education to become a teacher.

He says he hopes to help students the way Ms. Gann helped him.

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