Giving juvenile offenders a second chance at Oakland’s Youth UpRising

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Note: Here is a piece that I recently wrote for a local online publication.


The Youth Uprising Social Enterprises complex at 8711 MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland serves as an oasis of positivity in an otherwise destitute and severely underserved community.

On the ground leading up to the front door of the 25,000 square foot facility are the words “KNOWLEDGE OF” in multicolored letters, which intersect with the word “Self,” spelled out in solid black print.

On any given day there is a multitude of youth from the ages of 13-24 who are strongly encouraged to be themselves in the facility. Youth Uprising is home to a recording studio, dance studio, computer lab, skate park, basketball court, restaurant, media center and is still growing. The atmosphere at YU is the furthest thing from stressful for the young people who attend and it is even further from the sometimes-hopeless attitude that seems to permeate the air right outside its doors.

This is why since October of last year, Youth Uprising has been successfully running an Evening Reporting Center for juvenile offenders. The Evening Reporting Center, as Youth Uprising President and CEO Olis Simmons explains, is based on a national model, but it is the first of its kind in Alameda County.

“It’s based on the notion that juveniles who are low to medium risk are better served in the community than they are [in jail],” Simmons says. “The chance of changing their trajectory in life is increased when we provide a community base, a hub and a builder of positive social capitol for them.”

The center also can be seen as a mandatory after-school program for youngsters who have been found in violation of the law. In order for them to maintain their freedom they must report straight to Youth Uprising after school where they must stay until 8 p.m.

This relatively new installment of YU has four major components that have contributed to its success in keeping black and brown kids out of juvenile hall:

  • Culturally relevant meaningful activities such as art, sports, music, etc.
  • The consistent presence of caring adults so they know that some people will always be there for them.
  • They all have dinner together.
  • And all the youth who are part of the center get a ride home.

This formula has already changed the lives of several kids in the program. At least one who started out going to the court mandated Evening Reporting Center, finished out his term, found out that YU Lead (a youth leadership program also at Youth Uprising) was looking for young people to serve on their youth advisory board, interviewed and landed a spot on the team. He is now “like a rock star in YU lead. [He] speaks up and takes initiative and is like exactly what we would want from our children,” Simmons says beaming with pride.

The Evening Reporting Center, specifically, and Youth Uprising, in general, serve to fulfill the void that was left by the crack epidemic, the AIDS epidemic and the mass departure of blue collar jobs from Oakland. Although these issues may take several generations to fix when you walk into Youth Uprising you get a sense that the young people of today are definitely headed in the right direction.

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