“At CURYJ, we believe that every youth has a sacred purpose and we support them to fulfill that sacred purpose through our leadership development, trauma healing, and mentorship.”
— Linda Sanchez, Director of Programs
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ, pronounced “courage”) has been organizing and transforming in East Oakland for over a decade. The organization launched in 2010, when they created a community garden on unused city land in Oakland’s Fruitvale district and fought to defeat gang injunctions targeting youth of color. Since then, CURYJ has fought tirelessly in coalition to decriminalize, decarcerate and uplift youth through programming and policy work.
Their work is driven by the core values of “La Cultura Cura,” “For Us by Us” and “Every Young Person Is a Blessing.” CURYJ has popularized the slogan “Close youth prisons. Build youth leaders.” With the closure of California’s state youth prison system, they are putting it into practice.
I have had the opportunity to get to know CURYJ through participating in their Dream Beyond Bars fellowship. They have prepared me for and invited me to speak at meetings of city councils, county boards of supervisors and at hearings of the California State Senate.
Central to their mission is this kind of youth programming, which includes the Homies 4 Justice Internship for systems-impacted teenagers and the Dream Beyond Bars Fellowship for formerly incarcerated young adults. These offer young leaders paid opportunities to heal, connect and engage in community forums that will impact them.
According to Jesus Martinez-Coba, the Dream Beyond Bars program coordinator, “CURYJ puts youth at its center and in leadership positions, letting the youth decide what is best for them.” This level of youth-led programming in itself can be healing for young people who have been told by systems where they can and cannot go and who they can and cannot talk to, often without any input.
CURYJ is also active inside the Alameda County juvenile hall, connecting with and supporting youth who are locked up. These youth stay connected with CURYJ upon their release, and some have even gone on to join the internship or fellowship program and join the organization as full-time staff.
George Galvis, executive director and co-founder of CURYJ, was instrumental in the movement to defeat gang injunctions in Oakland. He was first incarcerated at 17 years old. He uses this experience and his Indigenous identity to connect with and empower young people impacted by systems. His visionary leadership has helped create All of Us or None to advocate for incarcerated people and their families and to co-author Prop 57, a 2016 voter initiative to allow parole consideration for non-violent felons.
CURYJ’s policy work spans both local and statewide levels. They bring youth to the table in local juvenile justice committees, city hall sessions, and board of supervisors meetings. They are centering youth voices in coalition with other community organizers. And they are boldly leading the way in transforming California’s juvenile justice system to a care-first model for all youth.
“We are mobilizing and organizing to defund OPD [Oakland Police Department], we are supporting impacted families of police violence, we are doing urban gardening, we are successfully engaging youth in statewide and local policy issues. We are building a movement from the ground up and planting seeds of hope in our communities for radical transformation,” said Director of Programs Linda Sanchez.
As noted on their website, CURYJ is working to end all youth incarceration by 2030. While this may appear bold to some, so was the closure of the state’s youth prison system, which as of this July is now a reality.
It certainly takes courage, but these young leaders have it.