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Meet 2022 Urban Scholars Graduates and Donate to the 2022 Urban Scholars Fund

Since 2008, the Social Justice Learning Institute’s Urban Scholars program has been empowering youth of color to use education as a tool for self-transformation and positive community change.

Our familyhood is a whole-self approach that powers students to unleash their truest selves, achieve academic success, and discover their voice in this world so that they can become agents of change.

Our trained and passionate Educational Equity team taps into the body, mind, and soul of our students by focusing on four key areas we believe open them up to learn, grow and change:

The result?

One hundred percent of our scholars either enroll in college, enlist in the military, or become gainfully employed.

With this year’s Class of 2022 Urban Scholars graduating in less than one month, we are asking you to contribute to their bright futures by donating to the Urban Scholars Scholarship Fund.

Your support will help the graduating class cover costs associated with tuition, books, housing, and transportation.⁣⁣⁣

Meet Some of Our Class of 2022 Urban Scholars

Kevyn Santos

Urban Scholar Kevyn Santos has his sights set on attending USC or UCLA for Computer Engineering.

Our Educational Equity team members assisted him in completing formal college applications as well as financial aid packages.

Upon college enrollment, he will have continued access and support from our College Persistence and Workforce Development team, which helps alumni persist through college and carve out their career paths.

Together, with the knowledge, resources and community-building skills Kevyn’s gained from being in the Urban Scholars program, he is equipped to become the change he wishes to see.

One social issue he sees in his community is the gentrification of Inglewood and its impact on local residents. Urban Scholars, he said, “has given me much more insight on issues that are going on in my community.”

This type of critical consciousness inspires Kevyn to find ways to help those around him.

Now that he’s gotten out of his shell and “gained confidence as a person”, he’s ready for the next chapter of his life.

Marvin Chong

Urban Scholar Marvin Chong is an actor and R&B singer with plans to attend Los Angeles Valley College for music this Fall.

As an artist, he naturally connects with his community on a profound level.

Two issues that Marvin is most passionate about are homelessness and the racial oppression of Black men. He explains “I see a lot of, and that’s very upsetting.”

While Marvin was always aware of these injustices, he credits the Urban Scholars program with illuminating their root causes and helping him discover his voice on the matters.

He says he’s more socially conscious and solution-oriented. In fact, one way he hopes to resolve the homelessness crisis in his community is by gathering petitions and submitting them to his local government.

In the interim, he continues to hone in on his craft and create music that bridges communities.

Jordan Fossett

Urban Scholar Jordan Fossett is a graduating senior from Eastside High School who will attend Grambling State University this Fall.

After participating in the Urban Scholars program for four years, the skilled gamer, who has competed on prestigious level esports teams, says his life has changed.

Not only has SJLI helped him graduate and get into one of the colleges on his list, but it’s also changed his mindset on social justice issues.

“I look at the bigger picture now and actually realize the source of the problems in my community and how to address them.”

When asked what injustices he wants to tackle, Jordan said racial inequality, gun violence and child welfare—issues he feels more comfortable addressing as a result of our Urban Scholars program.

“Being involved with SJLI helped me get over my social anxiety and develop more confidence. We talk about life and so many other topics that affect us and our communities. We do research and think [critically] about how to solve those problems. I’m blessed to be in the program.”

Watch the 2022 Urban Scholars Culmination

Please join us on June 11, 2022, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., for the Class of 2022 Urban Scholars Virtual Watch Party.

Tune in as we celebrate our proud scholars with a culmination ceremony at The Beehive in Los Angeles.

More Ways to Support This Year’s Urban Scholars

For 14 years, we’ve come together as a family to provide access and opportunity to our students, so they can shape a limitless future.

We have a chance to do it again by raising $30,000 to help this year’s graduating seniors cover some of the costs of tuition, books, housing and transportation.

If you’ve already donated to the 2022 Urban Scholars Scholarship Fund, here are four other ways you can boost your support:

  1. Volunteer at the 2022 Urban Scholars Culmination
  2. Fundraise in support of the Urban Scholars Fund
  3. Spread the word on your social media channels
  4. Share this email with family, friends, colleagues, and community
How the Urban Scholars Program Impacts Youth of Color

We are so proud to share how we have significantly increased our community impact.

Our Urban Scholars program has now grown to serve over 2,000 scholars since 2008.

Whether you’ve been with our community for some time or are just gaining knowledge of our mission, get ready to learn, grow, and change.

Here is a look at our flagship program—from our beginnings and how Urban Scholars works, to our impact numbers and what students are saying.

The Urban Scholars Program

At the Social Justice Learning Institute, we are dedicated to improving the education, health, and well-being of youth of color by empowering them to take hold of their educational future using research as a tool for community and social change.

We train students to conduct research on problems in their community using a rigorous yearlong curriculum while also focusing on increasing academic achievement, graduating high school, and transitioning to a college and career pathway.

By the time SJLI’s youth complete this credit-bearing program, participants not only gain tools for academic success but also grow into leaders by engaging in community-based action research training and skills building.

Where We Started & Where We’re At

The Urban Scholars program started as the Black Male Youth Academy in 2008 at Morningside High School in Inglewood, CA with 15 students and a vision to transform the lives of young men of color by empowering them through education.

Urban Scholars now serves 450 students annually at 27 school sites in seven school districts in two states (California and Texas).

How Urban Scholars Works

Using education as a tool, we empower youth of color by providing culturally relevant curriculum and academic support through a social justice lens so they can discover their best talents and apply them to help improve the world they live within.

By tapping into 4 key areas, our scholars learn to build knowledge of self for personal transformation, develop social awareness of the world around them, and achieve academic success.

Our Impact Numbers

Urban Scholars is changing the life trajectories of young men of color from the communities of Inglewood, Lennox, Compton, San Gabriel Valley, Palmdale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Santa Monica, South Los Angeles and Houston, TX.

Here is a look at our impact in numbers.

What Students Are Saying

In our second decade of changing the lives of youth of color, we bring you testimonials from our last cohort of Urban Scholars—the graduating class of 2021, whom we celebrated with a culmination ceremony at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Urban Scholars and The Power of Familyhood

At the Social Justice Learning Institute, familyhood is at the heart of our Urban Scholars program.

We use the same elements of family we see in our communities to empower youth to graduate high school, persist through college and build life paths that create equitable systems for people of color.

Our dedicated Educational Equity team is made up of mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers who are all committed to improving the lives of youth through education.

In the spirit of familyhood, you’ll read student testimonials about the transformative nature of our Urban Scholars program, and how it has helped them discover their undeniable value and place in this vast world we live in.

Urban Scholars: Where Familyhood Stands Together

“Familyhood, We Stand Together!”

This is what we chant in unity at the beginning and end of every encounter we have with our Urban Scholars. It’s not for the sake of saying it, but it’s because we truly believe family has the power to raise up young people and thrust them into their purpose.

The notion of having a village of people standing behind our students creates safety nets so they can freely learn, grow and change.

The element of how we create familyhood is simple; it starts with caring individuals who, over time, forge life-altering bonds.

Our Educational Equity team provides students and school site educators a culturally-relevant curriculum and academic support through a social justice lens.

With training and by harnessing our passions, we collectively provide heritage-based education, team-building, and leadership development needed in the classroom and at retreats to strengthen students’ sense of identity and critical consciousness.

Together, we train students in community-based action research, policy and advocacy, and organizing so that they can address issues in their communities and affect long-term systems change.

Not only do we provide individualized academic and career pathway development, we also work to help them address and overcome trauma through restorative practices, outdoor retreats, and individualized therapy sessions with mental health professionals.

The communal experience allows our youth to thrive and become agents of change within their own communities to reach back to lift up others like them.

Watch this quick video that captures the familyhood experience.


Support This Year’s Class of 2022 Urban Scholars

In just over a month, our Urban Scholars seniors will graduate high school and prepare for college.

Together, as a family, we can reach our goal of raising $30,000 to help them cover the costs of tuition, books, housing and transportation.

Support the efforts of our 2022 Urban Scholars graduating class now by participating in our scholarship campaign in these five ways:

  1. Donate to the Urban Scholars Fund
  2. Volunteer at the 2022 Urban Scholars Culmination
  3. Fundraise in support of the Urban Scholars Fund
  4. Spread the word on your social media channels
  5. Share this email with family, friends, colleagues, and community
#GivingTuesday is Coming, And Every SJLI Dollar Will Be Matched!

The holiday season is fast approaching and so is the largest global giving day of the year—Giving Tuesday! 

So get ready to unite your dollars for change on November 30, 2021

In partnership with the All Ways Up Foundation, every SJLI dollar you donate will be matched up to $25,000 as part of our participation in their 10th Annual Bridging the Gap Awards.

With your contribution, SJLI can double its impact in support of our Urban Scholars and youth programs.

Become an Early Supporter Today!


We are humbled by members of our community who have asked how they can become early supporters of our #GivingTuesday Matching Campaign. Here are some ways you can help:

The Social Justice Learning Institute Selects Its Next Executive Director
After an extensive national search, the Social Justice Learning Institute’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce the selection of Mr. Derek Steele as its next Executive Director.

Derek succeeds SJLI co-founder Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, who transitioned to serve as the inaugural Executive Director of Racial Equity for Los Angeles County.

Our board chair and SJLI co-founder Dr. Omai Garner said, “After an extensive search, Derek was the clear and ideal choice. His leadership style, deep understanding of the organization, and vision for SJLI’s future will lead us forward in our next decade of impact and beyond.”

Derek, an experienced problem solver who started his career as an electrical engineer at Northrop Grumman, joined the Social Justice Learning Institute over 10 years ago as a volunteer.

Early in his career at SJLI, Derek realized the equity lens he saw the world through, along with his systems-building approach, could be effective in transforming paradigms that cause inequity.

Under his leadership as the Health Equity Programs Director, he stewarded a team that taught over 10,000 families in nutrition, physical activity and urban agriculture, built 126 gardens in the community, began the Inglewood Certified Farmers’ Market and Inglewood Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), and during COVID provided over 1,000,000 lbs of produce to community members.

He and his team also significantly influenced the passing of two major state bills impacting food insecurity in California: Assembly bills AB551 – Agriculture Incentive Zones, AB2561 – Neighborhood Food Act.

With his advanced skills in program development and implementation, building and maintaining relationships, managing grants, contracts, budgets, audits and more, Derek was promoted in 2018 to serve as SJLI’s first Associate Director of Operations and Finance.

In this role, he worked alongside Dr. Scorza to standardize operational and financial processes and procedures, preparing the organization for regional and national growth. Now he is using his unique skill sets garnered over his 11-year career to lead SJLI as they create equity solutions for communities of color, particularly the Black community.

“I am thankful for the Board’s confidence in me,” Derek said. “I’m especially grateful for Dr. Scorza’s guidance, mentorship and friendship. SJLI is strong today because of his tireless leadership over the last 14 years. I see this as a continuation of my life’s work and I’m excited for the opportunity to steward such an amazing team that is keenly focused on forging a more equitable future.”

With Derek as the Executive Director, SJLI will continue its trajectory as a preeminent community voice for greater equity in education, health, policy and advocacy. Derek will work closely with SJLI’s board, leaders, and team members to further expand the organization’s programmatic reach, deepen the expertise in research & action, and as always, vigorously serve the community.

The entire SJLI team is extremely excited that Derek will bring his drive, wealth of knowledge and collaborative spirit to lead the organization into its second decade of impact.
Apply to Become an SJLI Youth Justice Fellow




The Youth Justice Fellowship (YJF) at the Social Justice Learning Institute is an intensive leadership development program that engages an annual cohort of 10 youth leaders in community-based organizing and action research over the course of 12 months. This year’s research topic will focus on State-Sanctioned Violence and Alternatives to Community Safety.

Participants will receive rigorous training in the academic and organizing skills needed to be transformative leaders. This is a “whole-person” immersive experience that will serve them personally and in their community work for the rest of their lives. They will also build lifelong friendships, as well as do the community and personal work of healing individual and collective trauma. Each cohort critique and diagnose the harmful effects of existing institutional models and practices concerning their research focus. They will then investigate, analyze, and develop policy recommendations on the issue.

In parallel, we will experience the joy and depth of our own learning community. Participants will get to explore their personal passion and drive for social justice, they will get to meet other leaders and build community beyond their home place. We will also have a lot of fun! We will travel, play, and bond while we are learning and our lives will be changed for the better as a result. If this feels like a fit for you,  join us for this one-of-a-kind opportunity!


Please complete your application by clicking on the following link: 

SJLI Youth Justice Fellowship 2021-22 Application

You will need to upload a cover letter and your resume/cv


Applications will be accepted through Friday, June 4, 2021, 11:59 pm (PST)

If you have any questions, please email Gabriel Regalado at



TIME AND COMMITMENT (Between July 2021 and June 2022)

Apply Now!

SJLI 100 Seeds of Change Creator Nicole Steele Opens Up with Healthline in Inspiring Video Series

“My husband was diagnosed with hypertension at 25. The doctor says, you know, you need to eat better. We’re two Black kids from the hood. What does that mean?

I just started to notice around my neighborhood that we weren’t the only people dealing with this issue.

You could literally walk down the street and see the health disparity in my neighborhood. There were over 250 fast-food restaurants but if I drive up the 10 freeway there’s eight farmer’s markets.

I wanted to build at least 100 gardens in my community so that it started to feel normal to walk through urban spaces and see food growing.”

Watch SJLI Health Equity Program Manager and 100 Seeds of Change Creator Nicole Steele as she shares in this Healthline video series how a passion to transform community health 100 seeds at a time went from urban spaces to integrated common core curriculum at our Urban Scholar schools and legislation that allows renters to grow food in rented spaces.

For more, go to

SJLI Teams with Healthline & Health Equity Leaders to Support the Stronger Scholarship

Health equity leaders of today know that building a more equitable world starts with our communities and the students making changes at the ground level.

Our Health Equity Program Manager and 100 Seeds of Change Creator Nicole Steele has teamed up with Healthline and other health equity trailblazers who have stepped into their calling by helping others, building community, and challenging systemic inequities.

Together, they are using their voices, experiences and passion to support The Healthline & Prevention Institute Stronger Scholarship, which will offer $7,000 to three Black, Hispanic/Latinx or Indigenous students reducing health inequities in their community.

To all of our students out there creating positive strides in health equity, visit to learn more and apply today.

The application deadline is April 20, 2021.

Farewell from Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, Executive Director and Founder

Dear Friends and Supporters,

First, thank you for your support of the Social Justice Learning Institute. Without you, we could not have done the much-needed social and racial justice work, could not have reached more than 2,000 youth through our educational programs, supported communities of color through our HEAL classes and policy and advocacy work, or expanded to serve new communities.

During this unprecedented pandemic, we have truly grown together as a community to help and support one another. As we move into our second decade, I am moved by our progress and the lives we impacted.

After 14 years of leadership, I will be transitioning out of my Executive Director and Founder role on December 14 and into a new role as the Executive Director of Racial Equity for Los Angeles County.

This new position will allow me to continue to do the racial justice and equity work I have dedicated my life to. SJLI will always be a part of who I am and I’m certain that it will continue to thrive and build the next generation of leaders.

Although I will miss the team and community members who, together, have helped build SJLI into the organization it is today, I know that I am leaving the organization in fantastic hands.

Derek Steele, Associate Director of Operations and Finance, will lead the organization moving forward and serve as interim Executive Director.

Derek has been with the organization for over 10 years and has been instrumental to its success thus far.

As a co-creator of SJLI’s Health Equity programs area, one of his many accomplishments was leading the team that implemented SJLI’s “100 Seeds of Change”, which created opportunities to transform health in the built environment and improve health outcomes within our community.

Angela Johnson Peters, Associate Director of Programs and Development, will support Derek as the Transition Action Team’s co-lead.

Angela has been instrumental in overseeing our Urban Scholars school site expansion, including our Houston site.

Their leadership, along with the support of the Board Chair and Co-Founder Dr. Omai Garner, will help make this transition period as seamless as possible.

They are true believers in what we’ve built over the years and have a clear vision for how much more we can still achieve.

Additionally, we hired The Hawkins Company, a national executive search firm, to find the next leader who will help guide the organization to even greater success and embrace our core values. We have also retained Paul C. Hudson to work with the Board on strategic direction, a communications/PR team, and Clark Souers from Expert Effect.

Thanks to your support, the organization is in a strong position to sustain and grow our programming, which means improved outcomes in our community and reaching more community members.

I look forward to our continued work together as fellow supporters. I can’t wait to see what our future holds.


With gratitude,

Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza

Executive Director and Founder

SJLI and Urban Scholar/BLOOMer Sean Jones Demand Justice for His Brother Dijon Kizzee

On Monday afternoon, August 31st, Dijon Kizzee, a 29-year-old Black man, was stopped by two deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department while riding his bicycle.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Dijon was brutally fired upon on the 1200 block of West 109th Place. A burst of blazing gunshots was discharged by deputies.

Video footage shows him running away from the officers before he was struck down. Eyewitnesses report that there was no attempt at de-escalation by the officers and that Dijon had his hands up in a non-threatening posture before he ran away from them, terrified for his life.

He was reportedly shot 15 times in the back.

Before nightfall, our community was saying his name, demanding justice and declaring that his Black life mattered — adding another hashtag to an ever-growing list of lives stolen by law enforcement.

Dijon’s brother, Sean, a recent graduate from our Urban Scholars program and a Brothers, Sons, Selves Youth Leader, has dedicated more than four years to organizing advocacy campaigns and pushing for criminal justice reform while fighting to transform communities facing injustice.

He knew that what happened to so many others — Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor and countless others — could happen to him and his big brother. It’s why he became a youth justice leader here at SJLI and began organizing in our community.

“I just want justice,” Sean cried.

Dijon Kizzee (Photo Credit: Family/Go Fund Me)

Loved ones of Dijon remember him as a family-oriented man, a loving son who took great care of his mother until her untimely death in 2011 due to health complications. His grandmother, Etta Clark, remembers that he was a kind, loving and respectful person who often checked in on her.

Since the death of his mother, Dijon struggled emotionally with navigating life without her, but he strove for self-improvement nonetheless.

Even though he had his own car, which he would often generously lend to family and friends, Dijon was a fervent enthusiast of bike riding. He loved it. He often engaged in this climate-friendly activity despite the hazardous conditions of South Central’s streets and sidewalks.

Community bike riding groups like Black Kids on Bikes (BkoB) and the Real Rydaz have long advocated for improved biking conditions throughout South Central.

In the area where Dijon was apprehended, Black cyclists have to be vigilantly wary of the dual hazards of both the underdeveloped biking infrastructure and the unjust realities of “Biking while Black.”

While LA County Sheriffs and the LAPD have not released statistics on bicycle stops, available data from Oakland, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Chicago and Tampa all reveal that Black cyclists across the nation are stopped, harassed and searched by law enforcement at disproportionately high rates compared to White cyclists.

Moreover, the available data on pretextual motor vehicle stops in LA reveal that Black drivers and passengers are four times more likely to be stopped, searched, and harassed by police despite the fact that White drivers and passengers are more likely to be found with illegal contraband.

With an ensuing federal investigation on the reports of abuse and misconduct enacted by deputy gangs and secret societies within the LA County Sheriff’s Department, we know that anti-Black racism permeates in policing both as an institutional practice and through the clandestine operations of these deputy gangs.

For decades, LA deputies have harmed and terrorized our communities, committed numerous civil rights violations, and they have stolen hundreds of lives away from their families. For many families in our communities, the LA County Sheriff’s Department needs to be held accountable and answer for the shooting of Black people.

Given these disturbing trends in policing, SJLI rejects the pretextual context upon which deputies claimed to stop Dijon in an attempt to justify their trivial harassment, pursuit and killing of another Black man. We call upon the Attorney General of California, Xavier Becerra to prosecute these deputies and to bring accountability to the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

While we grieve with Dijon’s brother Sean, we’re also fighting alongside him by reinforcing our stance against police violence and demanding that the officers involved in the shooting be held accountable.

We will continue to bring together leaders and allies to elevate Sean’s voice and by pooling together our resources in support of his family.

We ask that you stand in solidarity with us and commit funds to help Sean’s family cover the funeral, burial and memorial services for Dijon.

Go Fund Me: Justice for Dijon Kizzee