Brothers, Sons and Selves
Brothers, Sons and Selves is a coalition of community-based organizations in Los Angeles and Long Beach that supports boys and young men of color. It was founded in 2011 to address systemic issues including the over-criminalization they face in school. Brothers organizes predominantly Black, Latino and Southeast Asian men, but also young people across all gender and sexual identities.
In 2013, Brothers, Sons and Selves — as well as other organizations — successfully called on the Los Angeles Unified School District to enact a School Climate Bill of Rights, ending "willful defiance" suspension and other policies that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino boys. Over a two-year period, suspensions dropped by 78% and graduation rates increased 13%.
Joshua Ham, Brothers Sons and Selves
Josh Ham is a Los Angeles organizer and photographer. He joined the Brothers, Sons and Selves motivated by the suspensions and police presence he witnessed as a student at Manual Arts High School. Ham successfully helped BSS petition LAUSD to adopt the School Climate Bill of Rights. Now 25, Ham runs healing circles and masculinity workshops across L.A.
"A lot of men of color don’t have that space to talk about mental well-being and emotional well-being," he said. "[We need to] be able to have those types of conversation in healing circles, to talk...how can I better develop as a human being and make sure that I’m the best version of myself possible every day I step out the door."
David Turner III, Brothers, Sons and Selves
David Turner III is the manager of Brothers, Sons and Selves, a Ph.D. candidate in the Social and Cultural Studies in Education program at the University of California Berkeley focusing on youth organization and Black male youth activities, and an adjunct lecturer at CalState Dominguez Hills in the Department of Africana Studies.
As a kid, his family moved around a lot. He attended about 15 different schools in Tennessee and Southern California before he graduated high school. "I saw all different types of educational environments and how the state can really dehumanize you," he said.
With Brothers, Sons and Selves, he predominantly works with boys and young men of color to address the systemic issues they face today.
"Young people may not necessarily be able to vote but that doesn’t mean they can’t have an impact on the political process, and the way in which policies, laws, and practices are changed and remade," Turner said.
Sacramento-based nonprofit Youth Forward was founded in 2017, initially to advocate that state revenues from California’s newly legal cannabis industry be invested in the communities of color most heavily impacted by the War on Drugs. Today, Youth Forward’s mission includes increasing investment in health, education and well-being programs for children, teens and young adults. The nonprofit is a co-leader of the Sac Kids First coalition and has worked with Code for America to see cannabis-related convictions overturned, cleared or reduced for 6,000 people. Youth Forward believes the voices of young people are crucial to its work and currently has four young adults on its nine-member board.
Sac Kids First
Sac Kids First is a grassroots coalition advocating for greater investment in Sacramento’s children and youth through the development of the Sacramento Children’s Fund. The coalition consists of youth leaders and activists with support from 25 member organizations including East Bay Asian Youth Center, Youth Forward, the Sacramento LGBT Center, Mutual Housing California, the Sacramento City Teachers Association and the Mutual Assistance Network. The Sacramento Children’s Fund would heavily involve input from the young people it would affect, from its creation to the way it’s implemented and evaluated.
Sac Kids First successfully secured enough signatures to place Measure G, which would have diverted 2.5% of the city’s unrestricted revenues to the children’s fund for the following 12 years, on the ballot in March of 2020. Though voters rejected Measure G 54% to 45%, Sac Kids First regards the defeat as only a temporary setback to its mission.
Jim Keddy, Youth Forward
Jim Keddy is currently the Executive Director of Youth Forward, a Kids First California board member, and a consultant for social change organizations, but his career has long revolved around activism and advocacy. Previous roles include the director of PICO California and VP and Chief Learning Officer of The California Endowment.
Keddy recalls growing up in California in the ‘60s and ‘70s and benefitting from his well-funded school system’s science labs, field trips and even a free summer school where he learned to play guitar. When he moved to Sacramento in 1996, he was immediately struck by the "horrible conditions" of its schools.
He traces underfunded schools back to 1978, when California passed Proposition 13, which decreased property taxes for most homeowners.
"From that point on, you can trace a gradual disinvestment in schools [and] youth programs run by cities," Keddy said.
That disinvestment ran parallel to the rise of mass incarceration, the criminalization of youth of color, and the reinforcement of white supremacy, Keddy said.
"Adults run the world and adults create a society that works for them," Keddy said. "Part of that is…building massive wealth for adults and at the same time, creating a society that marginalizes and under invests in children and youth."
Jay Franco, Youth Forward
Jay Franco is an organizer, a performing artist and a poet. He’s also a board member of Youth Forward. He served as the campaign coordinator for Sac Kids First and advocates for youth empowerment and issues that affect Brown communities.
Franco grew up with his mother and grandmother in one area of Sacramento but noticed disparities when he visited his grandparents and cousins, some of whom were in gangs, in other parts of the city. He also noticed a lack of extracurricular programs in his own school.
Later, when touring the U.S. as a musician in 2016, Franco saw many young people affected by the opioid crisis, which led him to pursue activism when he returned to Sacramento.
"I got involved with any type of campaign I could do," he said. "I started phone banking, canvassing, learning about the disparities in ZIP codes."
He says "fighting for the youth voice is going to forever be a thing. That work never stops."
Resilience OC prepares young people of color to become leaders in social movements and to build youth institutions in Orange County. The organization was founded in 2016 with the merging of RAIZ (Resistencia Autonomia Igualdad y lideraZgo), founded in 2011 to combat deportation, and Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color, founded in 2013 to address issues faced by young men of color. Key missions include tackling unaffordable housing and the lack of youth development programs, securing rights and protections for undocumented residents, promoting restorative justice in schools and providing inclusive healing for community members.
Claudia Pérez, Resilience OC
Claudia Pérez’s family came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was five years old. Shortly before she graduated high school, her father was deported.
"It’s something that young people that are undocumented have to live with on an everyday basis. I’m saying bye to my mom right now, but I don’t know if I will be saying goodnight to her," she said.
Perez once thought college wasn’t for her due to anti-immigration policies that would prevent her from accessing services and employment. But after she met the Orange County DREAM Team and other undocumented people who could connect her to resources, her outlook changed. She began organizing in 2010 as a high school student, forming and joining myriad organizations dedicated to restorative justice, fighting deportation, engaging youth.
She now holds a B.S. in sociology from the University of California, Irvine and is the Executive Director of Resilience OC, where she works to train youth to also become leaders in social movements.
The kNOw Media
The kNOw helps young people develop the journalism and media skills they need to tell their stories and report on their communities. What began in 2006 with 25 students who met for weekly writing workshops in West Fresno is now a robust organization in which participants produce video, podcasts and audio stories, photography, comics, forums and a biannual magazine distributed by the Fresno Bee. They cover the issues the youth of the Central Valley and beyond care about, including the school-to-prison-pipeline, immigration, underfunding in education, and activism. The kNOw is part of YouthWire, a collective of youth-led media outlets across California, and receives support via The California Endowment.
Raymart Catacutan, The kNOw Media
Raymart Catacutan is a Fresno City College student who covers news, music and entertainment with The kNOw.
"What drew me to writing is I want to be a storyteller. I want to be able to use my platform to uplift others. I think the best thing I’m doing is just talking to people, making sure people know what’s going on around them," he said.
Zofia Trexler, The kNOw Media
Zofia Trexler is a student at Clovis North High School who specializes in news and op-eds for The kNOw."When we’re talking about the voices of youth in the Central Valley, I feel one of the reasons that we don’t feel heard is because we don’t have outlets in which our voices can be heard, and I feel like The kNOw is a really unique opportunity to engage youth in journalism," she said.
She asserts that disinvestment in youth wouldn’t happen if the youth had a seat at the table. Her advice to adults? Listen to them, look them in the eyes, and value what they have to say.
Oakland-based Youth Together formed in 1996 to address interracial violence and inadequate school conditions. Youth Together supports youth leaders known as Lead Student Organizers in five area schools: Castlemont High School, Emery High School, McClymonds High School, Rudsdale Continuation High School and Skyline High School. Youth Together helps young people develop leadership and advocacy skills so that they can change their schools and communities for the better. Youth Together also hosts workshops with parents and operates a variety of after-school academic, cultural and enrichment programs at Skyline High School.
Tony Douangviseth, Youth Together
Tony Douangviseth grew up on what he calls a "dead-end block" in Oakland around the corner from a liquor store. His father worried he’d get involved with gangs, so he sent his son to activities in other parts of the city. This allowed Dougangviseth to first notice the class dynamics of his community.
Douangviseth served as a youth leader in Youth Together, during which he helped organize the One Land One People Youth Center. Today, he’s the executive director of Youth Together. He has over 20 years of experience organizing for meaningful education for young people and families of color.
"I think if you don’t ever provide a space or platform for youth, we can never develop the next generation of leaders," he said. "We have to empower the youth we have now. And instead of feeding them information, ask very critical questions so they can break it down and analyze it for themselves so they can come to their own conclusions."
Joequisha Hill, Youth Together
Joequisha "Jae" Hill is a student organizer with Youth Together at Skyline High School in Oakland, where she performs outreach and educates others on community issues. In 2019, she stood among the picket lines with teachers demanding a living wage, but she also called for the district to invest in its youth’s future versus cutting funds to school programs.
"I don’t want my little sisters to have to go school and be like, ‘Is my teacher even here today? Is there ink in the printer so we can have an assignment?’" she said.
Ultimately, the teachers got their raise, but the students’ programs remain on the chopping block. Hill isn’t one to quit.