400 Youth Activists Unite for #FreeOurDreams Rally

Young leaders of color also testify at hearing of the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color and meet with over 100 legislators. Sacramento, CA...
Free Our Dreams Advocacy Day 8_8

Young leaders of color also testify at hearing of the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color and meet with over 100 legislators.

Sacramento, CA – Over 400 young leaders representing the California Alliance for Boys and Men of Color gathered on the Capitol steps Monday for the #FreeOurDreams rally, where they urged policymakers to pass legislation related to police accountability, ending the criminalization of youth, and to promote safe and successful schools. Though seventy percent of California’s youth are of color, persistent inequalities in the criminal justice, immigration, and education systems have kept them locked up or locked out of opportunity. Following the rally, youth made over a hundred visits with their local representatives to discuss solutions for justice, health, safety, and the success of young people of color.

“Today is about allowing and cultivating the youth voice and making it sing, and having it be heard in the halls of power, where the legislative policy decisions are being made,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who, along with Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D-Los Angeles), chairs the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color.

The rally was preceded by the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color annual progress hearing, where youth leaders from Southern, Central, and Northern California provided feedback on the programs and policies supported by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color related to health, education, employment, juvenile justice, and safety.

Santa Ana youth David Celedon shared his story with the committee, explaining how a typical high school fight left him expelled and forced to attend remedial school just because police wrongly labeled the fight a “gang-related incident”. Now he’s fighting to remove this gang association and seal his record before he turns 18. “I am in fear that I was put into a gang database,” he told the committee, referring to a secret tracking system that allows police to label youth a gang member without their knowledge and with little recourse for youth to contest this allegation. Celedon spoke in support of AB 2298, one of many bills being considered this week, which would bring due process and transparency to this secret database.

The Select Committee was established by Assembly Speaker John Perez in 2011, and has partnered with the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to hold hearings across the state, collecting testimony from more than 2,000 youth, community members, government officials, researchers, and policy experts about problems, community-led solutions, and policies the state could enact to improve outcomes for its boys and young men of color. The testimony helped form an action plan with 67 policy priorities, many of which have subsequently been introduced as bills and become California law.

“We need to renew our vows to our Black, brown, and [Asian Pacific Islander] youth,” Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer said during the select committee hearing. “As parents, neighbors, voters, and policymakers, the greatest gift [we can give them] is ensuring access to success.”

Monday’s hearing also gave state agencies—including the Departments of Health & Human Services, Labor & Workforce Development, Corrections & Rehabilitation, and the Board of State and Community Corrections—the opportunity to testify about progress made in implementing policy recommendations outlined in the action plan.Jahmal Miller, Deputy Director at the California Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity, highlighted the steep health disparities facing boys and men of color in California and how they are interconnected with issues of poverty, education, and the justice system.

“We need to be innovative and creative and focus on the upstream [factors, on] the causes of the causes,” Miller recommended to the select committee.

Programs and policies that support young men of color are integral to California’s future success and prosperity. By 2020, a third of jobs in California will require at least a college degree, yet youth of color in the state—who make up a growing majority of young workers—face persistent gaps in educational attainment and job readiness. These inequities have significant economic consequences for the state: according to a 2007 study, African-American and Latino men graduating high school generate $681,130 and $451,360 more per person in additional dollars for the state than those who do not graduate high school. This is due to increased tax revenue and economic productivity as well as decreased costs associated with poor health or incarceration.

“These young activists are incredible—they are creative, fearless, loving, and powerful,” said Rosa Aqeel, Associate Director at PolicyLink, a research and action institute that advances social and economic equity and serves as coordinator for the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. “With them leading the way as California’s next generation of Senators, Assemblymembers, and other change-makers, our future is extremely bright.”