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Leadership through Adversity

 At 8-years-old I was selected to compete in my first regional All-Star baseball tournament. For eight consecutive years after that, I was selected and chosen to play in winter travel teams. I played with friends in the park, and always with my older brother in front of our garage. The sport allowed me to enjoy team camaraderie, compassion, defeat, and victory. I loved it. Once I told my mother, “One day, I will become a professional ball player and buy you a house.” I never achieved that dream because at age 16 it was no longer safe to get picked up by my coach and driven to other cities.

Traveling with a bunch of kids to areas across town that cut into the social, racial, and economic divide was no longer safe. Turf wars, heavy policing, gangs, and all levels of violence were displayed every single nightin my community and at school. All of a sudden, we were limited and trapped in our neighborhoods. We would fall asleep to the sound of the train going down the tracks, gunshots, and helicopters hovering. Within the first year that I had to stop playing sports, I was both shot and incarcerated for a violent offense. I was sentenced and served five years incarcerated trying to figure out how my life could have changed so quickly!

Despite this confusion, I remained resilient and continued to dream. Friends of mine over the next decade would die in the streets. Others would go on to serve lifelong prison sentences. Nevertheless, I remained positive. I was interested in learning from all of my experience and became committed to finding alternatives to violence. Others joined me in creating a dialogue on how to improve our conditions, as we found out who was in it for the right reasons and who was not.

Using the core principles I was raised witha tradition of culture, humility, work ethic, and understandingI was able to change my personal path. I felt a responsibility to talk to others about my experiences, the decisions I could have made, and options that may have been available. At the same time, I accepted that I did the best I could within my situation. I was released in 2001 and immediately began mentoring and facilitating youth programs with community-based organizations. As time went on, I became interested in how I can best support emerging leaders.

Today, I work to build leaders within the community as the Justice Policy and Program Assistant with Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA) based in East Salinas. I am honored and privileged to build with such a great team.  

A large part of my decision to work with MILPA, and the ability to see what that work might look like, came from my experience in the Next Generation Fellowship, which was co-created by MILPA and CJCJ.  The fellowship helped me understand where I need to be and how to get there, how I can help to move and create change. I felt its focus was the perfect balance between personal and professional values.

I am an advocate of statewide reform and continue to work on policies that re-invest and divert funding to the cities and neighborhoods most impacted by the justice system. The Next Generation Fellowship platform introduced me to the important legislative process, innovative organizing tools and advocacy efforts used to mobilize, and effect creative change.

I get to work toward changing the perception of how we view and treat our incarcerated youth by sharing my story of incarceration from the age of 16-21 and the impact that had on myself and my family’s displacement. I facilitate culturally-responsive programs in court-ordered schools, and I offer rights of passage curriculum and mentorship to youth inside detention facilities. In the community, I support probation-ordered youth with the transitional services they need.

Our youth today are more engaged than ever. They want to share their story and they want to be involved. They have many questions but also hold many of the answers. It is up to us as elders, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, community members, mentors educators, and decision-makers to embrace this next generation and provide the platform for love, hope, compassion, trust, and opportunity. Palabra!


The Next Generation Fellowship supports the leadership development of formerly-incarcerated or justice-involved individuals interested in cultural healing, racial justice, and policy advocacy. 

Keywords: leadership, mentoring, MILPA, NGF

Posted in Blog

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