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From Service to Justice: Systems Change as a Pathway Forward

A message from FLY’s President & CEO, Ali Knight

Traditionally, the fall season is when our programs move into high gear! Normally, our Law Program sites start up with the beginning of the school year. The Peer Leaders in our Leadership Training Program are fresh off their three-day wilderness retreat and ready to spark positive change in our communities. The mentors and mentees in the CAFA Mentor Program are ready for our fun fall events like go-karting and Alameda County’s Haunted Theme Park. 

This year, in the new virtual reality of COVID-19, these programs are still happening – but differently. Leveraging virtual technology platforms, and using in-person services judiciously, we continue to find innovative ways to fulfill our mission to be an outstanding youth service organization. We are creating fun, safe, and socially enriching experiences for our young people even as we practice social distancing and abide by local restrictions.  

While our programs operate against the backdrop of a global health pandemic, our work to pursue justice for our youth is front and center. As I mentioned in my first email to you as President and CEO, FLY is evolving from a “service for some” organization into what we were always intended to be: a “justice for all” organization.  

We know that to make justice possible, we must work against the injustices youth experience. This means partnering with systems to become more fair, equitable, and just. But it also means challenging systems that focus on punishment, not solutions for youth, that limit their opportunities, and that ignore or destroy their potential. 

Last year, we quietly rolled out Imagine 2030, a multi-faceted, ten-year strategic plan to support 30,000 California youth to exit the pipeline to prison. Working alongside kids, communities, and systems, we will replace that pipeline with pathways to prosperity for youth, and in doing so, help create healthier, thriving communities for everyone. 

Imagine 2030 was conceived with moments like this in mind: the opportunity – born out of crisis – to pair direct service with systems change and other pathways of growth in pursuit of justice for all. Right now, opportunities to advocate for our kids at the local, state, and national levels are continually calling for our attention. And there are many youth justice coalitions seeking partners with the strength and direct service experience of FLY.

I’m excited about the resources we have for this new body of work:

  • Policy Fellow Brittney Johnson, who comes from an education policy background including a recent stint at the U.S. Department of Education. She researches and analyzes legislation, organizes our advocacy tools, and will help write our “playbook” of local and state actions. 
  • Youth Voice Policy Fellow Nick Jasso, a distinguished FLY alumni now studying at UCLA, who is fresh from an internship at the state capital. He supports FLY to become an even stronger conduit for youth transformation and youth voice. A major focus right now is civic engagement for youth: understanding their rights and ways they can help create change. 
  • A Systems Change Task Force composed of our Policy Fellows and senior FLY leaders with passion for, and experience in, advocacy. These leaders include our Vice President of Youth Voice, our Vice President of Community Impact, and our Director of Communications. 
  • Board members who have taken on new responsibilities to help us form our policy agenda, review specific legislation and initiatives, and decide on our actions locally and  around the state. 
  • Staff and youth who are showing up for our Town Hall meetings about key policy issues. They are helping us better understand youth and community needs in order to form our stances and identify the best partners for each part of the work. 

Your partnership and support are critical on this journey to bring about justice for youth. There will be much more to report in the coming months, so expect more communication in email, this blog, and social media about our plans to end the pipeline to prison for 30,000 youth by 2030! #30Kby2K30