New Youth Justice Fellows Share Their Voices and Perspectives

December 8, 2021 | by Debra Illingworth Greene, Speranza Gonzalez, Michael Papias, Jose Reyna

Golden Gate Bridge

Evident Change welcomed its second cohort of youth justice fellows this fall. This paid fellowship is currently open to young adults in California who have shown leadership and passion for improving these systems.

Fellows have the opportunity to build skills and gain experience reviewing system policies, gather community feedback on social justice issues, and build recommendations on how to create more just and equitable systems. They work on system-improvement projects from across the country and complete a research project that culminates in proposing a community-driven solution to a local system issue that affects young adults in California. 

Building just and equitable social systems requires shifting power back to the communities they are intended to serve. Our Youth Justice Fellowship Program engages young adults with lived experience in becoming leaders in organizations and movements working to reimagine our systems.  

Please meet our latest group of youth justice fellows, who will share their unique voices and perspectives throughout their time with Evident Change. 

Speranza GonzalesSperanza Gonzalez

I am a dedicated college student majoring in sociology, currently pursuing a BS with dreams of becoming a criminal justice lawyer. I hope to help improve the justice and foster care systems by working directly with youth and communities that are at risk of system involvement. With lived experience in both the foster care and youth justice systems, I endured much trauma throughout my childhood. This is what makes me passionate about being a positive influence in the life of at least one youth who is at risk of becoming involved in the justice system. I plan to do this by advocating, demonstrating leadership, and being a direct connection for resources and opportunities for living a reformed life.

Michael PapiasMichael Papias

My interest is exploring the complex intersections of the child welfare system, juvenile justice reform, and race/ethnicity. As a vocal former foster youth and Latino orphan, my research is guided by my lived experiences in the child welfare system. My goal as a foster youth advocate is to help my community find self-determination, or the ability to define, name, and speak for oneself. 

I recently earned a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies and film, with a minor in education, from the University of California, Berkeley. During my final year, I led a qualitative research project with 28 Latina/Latinx/Latino foster youth from across the state of California. I used this data to create a community intervention project, Tú eres Tú/You are You, which uses zine making, 35mm photography, creative writing, and screen printing as tools to empower foster youth in the Bay Area. You can see the zine here

Jose ReynaJose Reyna

I am an entrepreneur, community advocate, and much more. I am also formerly incarcerated. I got involved with community work through a high school class that led me to Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). Later, while incarcerated, my lawyer and I received assistance from CURYJ. Throughout my incarceration, I stayed in contact with CURYJ, with staff showing up at my high school graduation at juvenile hall. After serving three years and seven months for my conviction, I got involved in CURYJ’s life coaching program and worked as a full-time employee.

I was also part of CURYJ’s Dream Beyond Bars Research Project, which collected the opinions of community members about alternatives to youth incarceration. Their goal is to close all lock-down facilities for youth and build healthy alternatives that get at the root problems of youth involved in the justice system. My personal experience in the justice system and the permanent, positive life impact of community organizations sparked my passion to help my community and others in need. I hope to continue making a difference through my work at Evident Change.