CURYJ Is Helping Once Incarcerated Youth Find ‘Their Voice and Power’
By age 17, Xochtil Larios had experienced the foster care system, homelessness, and incarceration in juvenile hall for “like my fourth time.”
Upon her release, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ, pronounced “courage”) stepped in and changed her life. They helped her apply for housing for transitional-age foster youth, offered her a paid internship, and then hired her to teach critical life and leadership skills to currently incarcerated youth – tools that helped her beat the odds. Larios went on to become a Soros Open Society Justice Fellow, a recipient of the California Endowment Youth Awards, and a Laney College grad who aspires to lead CURYJ someday.
CURYJ “believed in me versus labeled me… so that I can be the leader that I never thought I would be,” says Larios, also a youth commissioner for Alameda County’s Juvenile Justice Commission.
The East Oakland-based nonprofit works with young people, mostly in Alameda County, who have been affected by the justice system. Their goal is to end youth incarceration in the state.
Since most incarcerated people have experienced trauma, part of CURYJ’s work is to help their clients move from their traumatized selves to their authentic selves so they can “find their voice and power and lean into their innate leadership,” says Executive Director George Galvis.
CURYJ was born in late 2010 when its co-founders set out to defeat local gang injunctions that typically criminalized Black and Brown people, Galvis says. They knew that defendants of these restraining orders would need support creating a new vision for their lives and communities.
Today, the nonprofit is creating its first “youth power zone” at BART’s Fruitvale Station, where Oscar Grant was infamously killed by a transit officer on New Year’s Day in 2009. This intentional community will offer their young people leadership and workforce development, life skills, and culturally-rooted healing.
“The safest communities don’t have the most police or the most prisons. They have the most resources – and we’re trying to provide resources to our community through this space,” Galvis says.
Designed to serve as a national model for what decarceration can look like, the Oscar Grant Youth Power Zone will include program space for youth leadership development, organizing, legal services, arts and cultural activism, as well as a digital media lab and a multi-purpose gathering and events space. An arts café will employ the young people they serve while helping to fund the nonprofit’s work.
The youth power zone will enable society to divest from systems that have caused harm and trauma to families and communities of color while replacing them with spaces and opportunities for these formerly incarcerated young people to “heal, grow, and thrive,” Galvis says.
“It’s an alternative to incarceration,” he said. “CURYJ unlocks the leadership of young people to dream beyond bars.”
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.
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[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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