Transforming the Lives of Formerly Incarcerated Youth through Healing and Justice
Unbroken. Uncompromising. Unapologetic. Those three words, says George Galvis, succinctly describe the character of the Bay Area youth leadership and racial justice nonprofit he co-founded, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, CURYJ — pronounced “courage.”
After George Floyd was murdered and the national spotlight was on racial justice, Galvis says that rather than sit around and discuss the racist systems he has spent his adult life trying to dismantle, CURYJ was on the streets of Oakland leading and organizing the marches.
“We say what we mean, and we mean what we say, and no one ever questions our integrity,” Galvis says. “Some may disagree with our political strategy, but they know we stick to our values.”
For the last decade, CURYJ has been helping to heal and transform youth impacted by the foster care and juvenile justice systems – young people who Galvis says “have been deemed disposable or stigmatized as the worst of the worst” – into community leaders and advocates through paid internships and long-term life coaching. The organization is on a mission to end youth incarceration in the next ten years.
“We work with those young people, and we help them find their sacred purpose, recognize that they’re in fact a blessing and that they’re able to contribute to their community, to their families,” Galvis says.
Like many who get into this type of work, Galvis had his own struggles and run-ins with the juvenile justice system. Having grown up in the Bay Area in a violent home, Galvis says he replicated that violence on the streets, eventually catching three felony charges as a teenager for his role in a drive-by shooting. Fortunately, he says, he was charged as a minor, saving him from decades spent languishing in adult prison.
He grabbed hold of the life-altering moment and began attending college, kicking off the beginnings of his own healing journey. He earned an undergraduate degree in ethnic studies, connected with his Native American ancestral heritage and cut his teeth as a grassroots organizer, and then went on to earn a master’s degree in city planning from U.C. Berkeley.
CURYJ was born out of Galvis’ organizing efforts in 2010 to successfully end Oakland’s long-standing practice of gang injunctions – court orders that he says criminalize neighborhoods of color.
This year, the Unity Council and BRIDGE Housing granted CURYJ a 99-year lease – effective ownership – of the ground floor commercial space of a new affordable housing development across from the Fruitvale BART station where Oscar Grant was killed on New Year’s Day in 2009. The 7,500-square-foot space, called the Oscar Grant Youth Empowerment Zone, will house CURYJ’s programs and offer young adults a safe space to heal.
“We really felt like the name was appropriate because Oscar represents the young people that we work with,” says Galvis, who helped organize the Justice for Oscar Grant movement.
The space, slated for completion in 2023, will include a café run by youth and house CURYJ’s programs: Dream Beyond Bars, a paid fellowship for formerly incarcerated young adults; Homies 4 Justice, paid internships for young people interested in becoming community leaders; and Life Coaching, which provides long-term individualized support to youth.
“People come into our space and they’ve never felt loved, but when they come into CURYJ they genuinely feel loved, they feel supported, they feel welcomed and embraced,” Galvis says. “Those are the metrics that matter to me.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP!
CURYJ has launched a capital campaign to raise $10 million over the next three years to build out the Oscar Grant Youth Empowerment Zone. So far, the organization has raised roughly $1.2 million.
It is looking for supporters to donate to funding building costs, scaling up operations, expanding staff, and having a stronger cash reserve. Investing in the Oscar Grant Youth Empowerment Zone presents a unique opportunity to work in solidarity with local communities and state organizations in order to ensure that the cultural heritage, activism, and diversity of Fruitvale are protected and preserved.
“CURYJ works on the issues that its members identify as important in their lives and centers the young people as activist change-makers. I support CURYJ because I see that this approach is the only way to make true change and grow community power,” says Quinn Delaney, a CURYJ supporter.
Thanks to Delaney’s generosity, all gifts will be matched up to $85,000.
Director of Development: Jessica Miller
CURYJ was born when our co-founders set out to defeat the Fruitvale gang injunction, a pre-emptive “restraining order” that gave cops the right to harass young people of color and strip them of their civil liberties. In the years since defeating the injunction, CURYJ has worked nonstop in coalitions and partnerships to fight against policies that criminalize youth and to craft policy that invests in our communities.
Begin to Build a Relationship
We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.
[As youth] we skipped school because we didn’t like it, we don’t like the system, then we go outside, we get tickets, citations, we go in and out of juvenile hall, it’s always that system. We can’t ever level up… OGYPZ will be a safe place where youth can go, they’ll be actually provided resources. For example, the OGYPZ will have a café that will be a place for youth to work, it will show youth how to run a business; it’s a start, it’s a café, but you have an idea of how to start a business.
Help Build the Community Infrastructure to End Youth Incarceration
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) is seeking $1 million to complete fundraising for the first phase of its Oscar Grant Youth Power Zone, which is slated to open in May 2024 at Fruitvale Station. The project will serve as a larger home base for CURYJ and the formerly incarcerated young people they serve, wrapping them with a continuum of care through a mix of in-house programming and strategic partnerships.
“It’s really just about having a place where they feel loved, supported, and safe,” says CURYJ Executive Director George Galvis. “It’s a home away from home.”
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