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SF social justice champion David Inocencio passes

David Inocencio on his desk at Pacific News Service.

CJCJ was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of beloved social justice warrior and youth champion David Incencio. David played an integral role at CJCJ in helping create and direct our Detention Diversion Advocacy Program (DDAP). His vision and commitment to youth justice has left an indelible impact on countless hearts and minds across the state and beyond. What follows is a statement from his family on his work and legacy. 

It is with profound sadness to announce the passing of David Inocencio on July 8, 2023. After a fierce battle with cancer, his life was cut far too short. David was a remarkable human – a loving, devoted, determined and creative soul, who moved through life with a motivating warmth, a contagious smile, and ease. He had a unique gift for instantly forming trusting relationships with everyone – whether it be with family, friends, colleagues, and a host of community members. Yet it was the justice involved youth that he worked joyfully and tirelessly to shepherd to safety and peace, for over three decades, that experienced his impact most transformatively.

David’s professional life as a youth advocate began as a social worker in the juvenile division of our Public Defenders office. He then established and directed the groundbreaking youth justice de-incarceration program called Detention Diversion Advocacy Project (DDAP), while at CJCJ. He later founded his most notable organization, a communications and writing program, called The Beat Within, through Pacific News Service. He sustained The Beat for over 27 years along with teams of youth advocates, social justice freedom fighters, and a wide swath of community pillars, in San Francisco, California, and throughout the United States.

The Beat emerged in 96 as an effort to enhance the human expression of youth who were challenged by the systems of street life, poverty, criminal justice, and the like — who were chock full of despair, anger, fear and hopelessness – much of which was being expressed though the new sounds of rap music, the poetic jazz music of the era. The Beat provided a platform for the gathering of folks on the wings of the liberation movement (from artists, journalists and the formerly incarcerated, to family, neighbors and business people), to host frank-speaking and inspirational communication and writing workshops inside juvenile halls, to share and hear the voice of young lives who were already shut out and down. These youth were encouraged to prove otherwise by putting a No. 2 pencil to paper, and to publish their thoughts, feelings, and talent to each other and to the world. From this The Beat Within became an infectious act and a body of work that spanned to urban private schools, to group homes, to partnerships with community organizations — and it even spanned to the most hostile institutions in the U.S from New York’s Rikers Island Jail to California’s San Quentin Prison. Over time, The Beat produced hundreds of thousands of thoughts — freeing the constraints of silence.

The other’ David, was a fourth generation San Franciscan, a proud and loving father, a beloved son, uncle, cousin and husband, and a good friend to many. He loved life and this City, and he knew every corner as he traversed it while enjoying professional sports, cafés, leisurely strolls, or mostly hanging out in record shops and iconic nightclubs, getting his music fix on — - that which brought him incredible personal freedom, happiness and affirmation.

Back in the day, David could have been a professional musician – he had a solid singing voice, he became a beam of light when he listened and danced to music, and his rhythm skills played out on his vintage oyster blue Ludwig drums. But instead, he found his rhythm and his path of expression by finding and lifting the voice’ in others and merging that to a writing — interestingly naming this The Beat Within.

David will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him. May his memory be a blessing forevermore, and may it lift every voice to sing.