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Youth rally on the steps of the State Capitol.

On August 8th, more than 400 youth leaders gathered at the State Capitol for the Free Our Dreams Summit, an annual advocacy day dedicated to expanding justice and opportunity for youth of color. The summit, which began after several days of preparation at UC Davis, consisted of a legislative hearing, a rally, and dozens of legislative visits. Together, participants called on their state representatives to address the issues most important to youth in California, including expanding police accountability, guaranteeing access to counsel during interrogations, and ending youth solitary confinement.

Young people arrived in Sacramento from 18 cities across the state, traveling from as far as San Diego, Coachella, and Del Norte County. Upon arrival, youth participants organized into small teams, discussed legislative priorities, and selected two to three bills with the greatest potential impact on their communities.

The event, which was sponsored by the California Endowment and organized by the Movement Strategy Center, PolicyLink, and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, began with a hearing in the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color. Select Committee co-chairs, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, and Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, welcomed youth to the Capitol and offered reflections on the future of California. Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer spoke first, pledging to fight for boys and men of color in the state of California.” Assemblymember Bonta followed, commending the participants for raising their voices strong and loud.”

Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer addresses the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color.

The hearing consisted of a series of panels, three of which featured young people of color. The panelists detailed their experiences in the juvenile justice systems, in the job market, and as leaders of youth organizations. At the close of testimony, youth held a rally on the steps of the Capitol, energizing participants for the day ahead.

The legislative visits that followed offered youth an opportunity to speak with elected officials about the policy topics most relevant to their communities and to influence pending appropriations and floor votes in the Senate and Assembly.

One team of youth from Salinas met with Assemblymember Luis Alejo who represents their home district. The group had selected two priority bills to address during their visit: 1) Senate Bill (SB) 527, authored by Senator Carol Liu, which establishes clear guidelines for the allocation of Proposition 47’s Department of Education funds, granting priority to applicants that partner with community based organizations, establish community schools, or offer programs that improve learning and retention, and 2) SB 1052, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, which prohibits police from interrogating youth without first allowing them to consult with an attorney. In making the case for these priority bills, the team highlighted the ways in which trauma-informed programs are crucial to school retention, and described the risk of false confession when youth do not understand the consequences of waiving their Miranda rights. Ultimately, both bills received support from Assemblymember Alejo on the Assembly floor.

The 2016 Free Our Dreams Summit created an opportunity for California youth to raise their voices and leverage the power of collective action. By bringing young Californians together, Free Our Dreams championed some of 2016’s most transformative legislation and paved the way for meaningful reform.

Related Links:

Assembly Select Committee Hears from Youth of Color

CJCJ in the News: Mike Males on coercive police interrogation

A Quest for Democracy in Sacramento