By Xiomara Castro
In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, Urban Peace Movement was proud to join a 220-person visit to Sacramento policy makers earlier this month. The group was comprised mostly of young men of color, about 120 youth in all from 13 communities across California.
The group was led by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a coalition of youth, community organizations, foundations and civic leaders committed to improving the life chances of California’s boys and young men of color.
The trip was an opportunity for young men of color from across the State to educate lawmakers about their experiences and to speak up about the needs that continue to go unmet in their communities.
For the young men in UPM’s Determination Program, this was a great leadership opportunity. Determination is a peace making and support circle for young African American men and is run in a partnership between Urban Peace Movement and United Roots.
Determination Member DeMario Lewis was selected as one of three young people who were asked to testify at the Capitol during the Assembly Select Committee Hearing on the Status of Boys and Men of Color. He had this to say about the visit:
“It gave me a different scenario and perspective to talk one-on-one with people in places of higher power. I spoke with legislators in their offices and on a panel. I got to share my story and make them really understand what’s going on in our neighborhoods.
“My main goal was to speak about the need for re-entry programs for people on parole. Some of the rules are really unfair. For example, they give people coming out of prison one week to find a place to stay. If they can’t find a place they could end up back in jail. They need more re-entry programs with job training to get back on their feet and build up their self-esteem.
“For me, I didn’t care about anything when I was on parole. I didn’t care about committing crimes or anything really, but I got support to change my mind and change my lifestyle for my self and my child. People coming out of prison want to do well, and we need to support that. They need support to change their institutionalized mindset.
“In my specific case I’m very limited by the jobs I can get because of my record. I need a second chance. We need to be giving people a second chance. It felt good to tell my story, and I even got invited back by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to share my story with more people in Sacramento.”
The group visited 58 elected officials during the two-day visit, including Senators and Assembly Members. It was an incredibly empowering process to witness these young men officially addressing the State Legislature on the very issues we see play out everyday on the streets of Oakland.
Back at home, DeMario and the two other young men from Urban Peace Movement’s Determination program who traveled to Sacramento, Ajman Thrower and Malik Hardcastle, are as committed as ever to do their part. If given another opportunity to address elected leaders they would. Healthy, prosperous futures for our young men of color will mean a stronger California for all of us.
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.