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A Look at the Youth Justice Fellowship’s First Year

The Youth Justice Fellowship program is a year-long cohort for 10-12 Fellows ages 18-25 who will operate as a think tank and action team research, training, and organizing to improve their communities. The Fellows delve into systemic barriers impacting education, economics, health, environment, and others, learn about the history of social justice, and partner with other agencies and organizations, all while working in a healing and safe space.

Our first cohort from 2021 to 2022, collectively focused their research on state-sanctioned violence and alternatives to community safety, but each Fellow narrowed down a particular issue to tackle like anti-Black racism in the school-to-prison pipeline and alternatives to school policing.

Over the course of the year, Fellows engaged in convenings, retreats, research essay workshops, and a solidarity tour to Puerto Rico. 


Fellows met 22 times for their political education, research design, and community organizing strategy sessions. 


Fellowship youth leaders traveled to Carlsbad, CA for a 3-day series of workshops and sessions focused on analyzing the dynamics of healing in harm from the structural, institutional, interpersonal, and personal levels. Facilitators from the Oakland-based Ahimsa Collective guided them through reflective activities and introduced them to restorative justice practices. 

They also underwent a 4-day retreat that consisted of research workshops over two weekends. Participants completed their individual 7-page essay assignments and each gave a 10-15 minute presentation on their writing on the first weekend. They then proceeded to craft the design for their action research project as a team the following weekend.

Research Essay Workshops

After gathering for more than a dozen workshops, each of the 9 Fellows wrote a 7-page research essay focused on a particular issue on the subject of state-sanctioned violence. They were required to include an annotated bibliography, citing at least 5 primary sources and at least 5 secondary sources. 

Kahlila Williams

Title: Anti-Black Racism in the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Alternatives to School Policing

Marshé Doss

Title: Racial and Class Disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cristian Yanes

Title: Insidious Entanglements: The Reliance Between Healthcare and the Police State

Anthony Ayala

Title: Restorative Justice Alternatives to Addressing Community Violence and Harm

Aminadi Anorve

Title: A Genealogy of Racial Disparities in the History of Criminal Prosecution in the U.S.

Nisha Joseph

Title: Say Her Name: Issues of Gender Violence in Anti-Black Policin

Daniel Bisuano

Title: An Autoethnographic Reflection of State Violence and the LGBTQ Experience

William Patrick Oliver

Title: Anti-Black Racism in Issues of Police Brutality

LeQuan Muhammad

Title: Re-thinking the Historical Significance of Neighborhood Gangs

Puerto Rico Solidarity Tour

To engage Fellows in political education and cultural exchange with grassroots activists and organizations who are similarly focused on issues of state-sanctioned violence, we partnered with Fundacion Comunitaria and Kilometro Zero to host a Puerto Rico Solidarity Tour so that our fellows could draw a comparative analysis of the state-sanctioned violence, policy and public safety issues between Los Angeles County and Puerto Rico.

While there, our youth participated in a historical exploration of La Perla, Old San Juan, Ancón de Loíza, and El Yunque National Rainforest. They engaged in workshops on state-sanctioned violence in Puerto Rico with Kilometro Cero and workshops on the Afro-Puerto Rican freedom struggle with Fundacion Comunitaria.

To learn more about YJF, click here. Or, to discover how you can participate, please contact SJLI Youth Justice Organizer Gabriel Regalado at


The Youth Justice Fellowship Gets Ready to Make its First Policy Recommendations

When Fellows returned from Puerto Rico, they used what they learned from their convenings, retreats, research essay workshops, and solidarity tour to begin a youth participatory action research (YPAR) project to expand their solidarity efforts with PR.

The project is a comparative analysis evaluating the similarities and differences between Puerto Rico and Los Angeles in select focus areas of social justice and detailing Fellows’ own personal experiences and perspectives as youth scholar activists. 

There are 5 areas of analysis looking at systematic oppression shared between Los Angeles County and Puerto Rico:

  1. Statehood vs. Independence 
  2. Anti-Black Racism
  3. Police Violence
  4. Inaccessibility to Healthcare
  5. Housing Justice

Currently, Fellows are conducting a series of semi-structured surveys with Los Angeles County residents that will assess L.A. perceptions and opinions on their lived experiences with the 5 areas of focus in relation to the experiences of Puerto Ricans. They will compile their findings and their reflections into a comprehensive Youth Justice Fellowship Report that they will present at a culmination event in February 2023.

SJLI’s Youth Transform the Landscape of Education Through Youth Bill of Rights Workshops

Social Justice Learning Institute youth don’t pursue knowledge for themselves, they use it as a tool to create thriving communities and change systems for future generations of color. 

The youth leaders you see here are participating in one of several Youth Bill of Rights Workshops that are designed to arm young folks, ages 14 to 25, with the strategies and mobilization techniques needed to transform the landscape of education.

Back in 2018, the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition—a group of 9 youth-serving organizations—did a survey with over 3,000 students, including SJLI’s Urban Scholars and youth leaders. 

The survey assessed youth perspectives on law enforcement and took into account their priorities, experiences, challenges, and solutions to improving Black and Brown student success.

The responses were then synthesized into three (3) pillars that guide the bill:

        1. Defund school police and reduce youth contact with law enforcement

        2. Invest in school-based resources like restorative justice coordinators, academic counselors, mentorships, leadership development, and mental health counseling 

        3. Include youth in decision-making processes 

Since then, our youth have locked arms with other youth leaders to move these agendas forward, having successfully reduced the presence of police on campuses throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and moving almost $100 million toward Black student achievement. 

The bill, which contains policy recommendations and actionable items, launches next year and will be presented to lawmakers, school boards, LA County Supervisors, community members, and stakeholders.

For now, our youth are strategizing, preparing to mobilize, engaging early stakeholders, and finetuning their public comments. 

Support the Social Justice Learning Institute When You Shop, Then Vote Through Target Circle

We are honored and excited to announce that the Social Justice Learning Institute has been selected by Target Circle as an impact partner who is eligible to receive funding for its work empowering youth through education, creating thriving communities, and inspiring more equitable systems for people of color.

From now until December 31st, you have a chance to help direct funds from Target’s Community Giving Program directly to SJLI when you shop, then vote for us through the Target app or by visiting Target Circle.

With every eligible purchase you make, you earn one vote. That means the more you shop, the more votes you can cast for us.

Existing Target Circle members can find eligible votes under the available earnings section of the app. So, check it out and start voting today using these five easy steps for in-store and online purchases!

How to Earn Votes in Target Stores 

Step 1: Scan your “Wallet” barcode in the Target app at the time of purchase, or scan the barcode on your receipt with the Target App within seven (7) days of purchase.
Step 2: Choose “My Target” in the Target app.
Step 3: Tap on “Target Circle™”.
Step 4: Select “Vote for Nonprofits”.
Step 5: Find Social Justice Learning Institute and vote!

How to Earn Votes Online at

Step 1: Log in or sign up for a account.
Step 2: Make sure you are a Target Circle member. If not, join.
Step 3: Stay logged into your account while you make your purchase.
Step 4: After your purchase is complete, tap Target Circle and select “Voting”.
Step 5: Find Social Justice Learning Institute and vote!
SJLI Executive Director Derek Steele Responds to Racist Remarks by Key Los Angeles County Officials

Social Justice Learning Institute Executive Director Derek Steele shared the above video message in response to the hurtful and racist statements from Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León, Gil Cedillo, and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera.

Here is a transcript of Mr. Steele’s remarks:

It has been a whirlwind couple of days here in Los Angeles County.

I’ve had the privilege of working with many of my peers and our goal has been making sure that the voices are heard on this issue, and I wanted to make sure I shared mine on behalf of my team here at the Social Justice Learning Institute.

Let me start by saying this:

Racism, particularly anti-Black racism, has no place anywhere in Los Angeles County, the state of California, the United States of America, or even the world. This is why it was so infuriating, appalling, and disheartening to hear racist and derogatory remarks from elected officials—people that we, as voters, selected and chose to represent our interests.

A sacred trust was broken.

Listening to the entire audio, the casualness of their conversation about manipulating the redistricting process for political gain showed that the disenfranchisement of Black and Indigenous Angelenos was just business as usual.

You also got to hear first-hand the pervasiveness of the system of white supremacy and how its application is still fundamentally anti-Black, even if the wielders of its power are people of color like Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin De Leon, and Ron Herrera.

This type of energy is not new.

Black people are consistently displaced and disregarded. Black Angelenos make up more than 40 percent of the unhoused population and continue to deal with mass incarceration and police brutality.

There is hope though.

Today, as I contemplate all the things that have transpired in the last 48 hours, I think about my team, our youth, our families, and our communities.

It is an honor to work in concert and solidarity with leaders of color here at the Social Justice Learning Institute, the majority of whom are Black and Brown.

We have the privilege to engage with youth and community members in several L.A. County communities, empowering them to use their own individual agency to work on behalf of their fellow neighbors and residents—people they know, but most they may not.

We all have a role to play in making sure our communities are thriving places to live.

We are one of many organizations committed to this type of work with full heart and soul. We do not shy away from it because we understand that lives are in the balance of the change we work to create every day.

Many of us have been doing this work for years. Our elected representatives are supposed to be our allies. They have the responsibility of codifying the change we want to see while we take care of business every day in our communities and stand in the gaps that exist.

This work is not easy. It’s actually really hard to do. It’s made even harder when there are forces out there driven to divide and conquer, rather than unite and prosper.

If we are really about the business of creating a Los Angeles County that has racial equity leading the way—that has equity as the bridge that leads people to living whole, free, healthy, and liberated lives—then this type of egregious behavior, especially from leaders who sit in high spaces of influence and power, CANNOT BE TOLERATED.

So here is what needs to happen to begin to rectify the harm done:

1. We call for the immediate resignation—without question—of all parties, not just Ron Herrera. There is no way we can go back to a world where people who are anti-Black, anti-LGBTQIA+, and anti-solidarity still hold power. Not with what we know now. An example needs to be set to show we are serious about this care-first, equity-focused, people-centered agenda.

2. We call for a thorough investigation. This recording that we listened to happened a year ago. I was there when the redistricting process was taking place, like many of you were. Since then, there have been decisions made, redistricting has been completed and people have been impacted, people have been appointed, and issues have gone ignored. We need an investigation to know how pervasive these anti-Black racist ideas and sentiments are so we can correct the course.

3. We need to come together around a solidarity agenda. The elimination of anti-Black racism should be at the core of the agenda’s efforts in order to achieve racial equity. The Black Experience Action Team has already begun this work, and we need to take their lead. There is harm that needs to be repaired, making it crucial for the agenda to be care-first and most importantly, people-centered. This agenda also needs to be adopted in a way that impacts the political landscape, so things like this never happen again.

We are here, alongside so many others, with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters during this time as we fight against the systems that try to tear us apart.

We stand ready to do our part to change those systems in ways that create thriving communities that we all can live in, together.

SJLI Executive Director Derek Steele Speaks at 2nd Annual California Association of Black Educators Conference

Executive Director Derek Steele spoke at the 2nd Annual California Association of Black Educators (CABSE) conference in Napa, Calif. The focus of this year’s conference was addressing the systemic de-education of Black boys and discussing strategies for addressing implicit bias. Steele sat down with SJLI Co-founder and current Executive Director of Racial Equity at Los Angeles County Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza to define anti-deficit approaches to education, life course outcomes that impact academic success, and how to transform the structure of education and adopt a care-first model.

Watch the conversation here.

Executive Director Derek Steele Participates on 2022 Nonprofit Finance Fund Panel

On June 29, 2022, the Nonprofit Finance Fund released the results of the State on the Nonprofit Sector Survey for Los Angeles County, which collected data, stories and advice from more than 200 nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles about the impact of the pandemic and racial justice.

Executive Director Derek Steele participated on a panel with other leaders in the nonprofit sector to discuss the survey findings and what needs to be done to develop a more equitable Los Angeles, particularly for BIPOC-led organizations.

“We can’t use 20th century ways of operating as if they can be the solution for today’s issues and needs. If we are going to have a people-centered, care-first centered and focused way of living and a way of being, we’re going to have to reformulate how we think about the nonprofit space. This is the centerpiece to transform the way that life can be for all of us to live whole and free lives,” Steele said.

View the recorded webinar here.

Read the survey results here.

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
Join the 2022 Urban Scholars Culmination Watch Party and Learn How You Can Support Our Youth

Since 2008, the Social Justice Learning Institute’s Urban Scholars program has been empowering youth of color to create bold solutions for helping the world they live within.

By tapping into four key areas—academic and career development, identity development, social justice youth leadership, social-emotional support—our scholars learn to build knowledge of self for personal transformation, develop social awareness of the world around them, and achieve academic success.

In fact, 87 percent of our Urban Scholars are admitted to college, and 100 percent either enroll in college, enlist in the military, or become gainfully employed.

To celebrate their hard work and momentous achievements, SJLI hosts an annual culmination event.

We invite you to join us in lifting up the Class of 2022 as they embark on a new journey. This hybrid event will be live-streamed on June 11, 2022, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at The Beehive in Los Angeles.

Watch the Class of 2021 Urban Scholars Culmination!

Last June, the graduating Class of 2021 was honored during a spectacular hybrid ceremony at the historical Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Scholars arrived with their closest loved ones and were gifted a box with their Urban Scholars class stole and a medal, which they wore on a red carpet to receive their graduation announcement, program certification, and family photo op.

More surprises lingered off the carpet—a pair of Jordan Concords, a class t-shirt with all of their names, catered lunch by Something Good 2 Eat, music, a victory line, and long-awaited brotherhood after coming off of pandemic lockdown.

There were even virtual appearances from Singer/Actress Vanessa Williams and Rapper/Songwriter D-Smoke.

Drop into a recap of the Class of 2021 Urban Scholars Culmination now by clicking the video below.

Become an Early Supporter

With just a few months left before our Urban Scholars seniors graduate high school and prepare for college, we are launching our annual scholarship campaign to raise $30,000 to help them cover the costs of tuition, books, housing, and transportation.

Celebrate and support the efforts of our 2022 Urban Scholars graduating class 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