ALAMEDA COUNTY, CAOn Friday, October 23, 2020, the community gathered virtually to celebrate reentry participants in the BOSS CareerTraining and Employment Center (CTEC) who have done the hard work of building new skills and finding living wage work – no easy challenge in the pandemic economy.

Our Master of Ceremonies John Jones III, Community & Political Engagement Director of Just Cities, welcomed everyone, and thanked our donors and sponsors including Dan Scarola, ACLU of Northern California, Hamilton Hunt, and the entire BOSS Board of Directors, along with the Claremont Club and Spa, and La Familia.

“We’re proud of this moment, because if you’ve had failures, then moments like this are truly special. As we say at BOSS, nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

He then introduced Tim Smith, BOSS Director of Reentry, Neighborhood Safety, and Social Justice, who introduced the CTEC program. Tim spoke about the pain of losing participants who tragically lose their lives to violence, and gave thanks to Donald for his vision of comprehensive reentry and violence prevention programming in East and West Oakland.

“We’re proud of this moment, because if you’ve had failures, then moments like this are truly special,” he said. “As we say at BOSS,” he concluded, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

John then provided information about two upcoming state ballot initiatives, Propositions 17 and 20, which impact CTEC participants and justice-involved community members. Prop 17 will allow parolees to vote and in some cases run for office, while Prop 20 would increase penalties and hurdles to reentry and roll back much of the justice reform progress made in recent years.

The evening was not without technical difficulties, as virtual events are prone to, but spirits remained high throughout, as we heard the inspiring stories of men and women turning their lives around – like CTEC Valedictorians Antwain Ramsey and David Vega.

“When I walked through that door, they were the doors of a new life for me.” – Antwain Ramsey

David Vega from LaFamilia spoke about the unfairness of his incarceration and the personal challenges he’s experienced, along with the support he received to help him find living wage employment – he’s proud of earning a good living, and having money to spend as he chooses.

Antwain Ramsey from BOSS spoke next, about leaving Santa Rita and going to his Probation Officer, not sure that they’d really be able to help, and 15 minutes after leaving the office, as he was walking away, he got a call from his sister to go to CTEC.

“When I walked through that door, they were the doors of a new life for me,” Antwain said.

He’s been working since March, and “I ain’t looked back since.” He is also moving into new housing November 1, thanks to BOSS’s help – and his own self-agency and hard work.

“I want to thank myself too,” he said, “for keeping on track and not giving up…You can’t see me right now but tears are about to come out of my eyes. I’m 52 years old and never had anyone I wanted to help or who wanted to help me, but now I do,” he said. “These are people (CTEC staff) who are going to be friends for the rest of my life.”

John then introduced our keynote speaker, Ricky Gaines – author, entrepreneur, publisher, and speaker, who spent 24 years incarcerated.

“Getting out of prison and not knowing what you’ll do next – I resonate with that,” Ricky said. “But everything you need is in you,” he said. “It’s just been mis-directed.”

“I want to thank myself too for keeping on track and not giving up…You can’t see me right now but tears are about to come out of my eyes. I’m 52 years old and never had anyone I wanted to help or who wanted to help me, but now I do,

Ricky talked about the need for training and education programs while people are still incarcerated – because eventually they’re coming home. And once home, they want to do better, but face so many obstacles – it’s tiring and frustrating, trying to find work and housing when the door gets shut on you so many times. This is where organizations like BOSS come in “Training programs like the one you guys just graduated from…You guys are in the right place.”

He also lauded BOSS’s emphasis on changing policies, like Prop 17 and 20, and praised Donald for his role creating these programs, who “changed the trajectory of my life”. He talked about his work with the San Quentin-based program No More Tears, which emphasizes being accountable, and how important it is to take care of yourself.

“At the end of the day, all you have is you,” he said, noting that families are important and we want to do right for them, but ultimately we have to do the work ourselves.

“I love you, and know you are destined for greater things,” he said.

And then, it was the moment we’d gathered for – to celebrate the 2020 CTEC Graduating Class! All graduates received a gift bag ahead of time that included a Graduation cap, BOSS baseball cap, reusable water bottles, fanny pack, keychain, folders, notepad, tote bag, face mask, and a 7” electronic tablet! Graduates also received Certificates from BOSS or La Familia, and recognition from State Senator Nancy Skinner, Assembly Members Rob Bonta, Bill Quirk, and Buffy Wicks, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

John read each name as it scrolled across the screen, and once all the names were read, guests chimed in with applause and cheers. John led the graduates in a virtual hat toss.

“Don’t let nobody define you by your past – you’re building your future right now,” John said.

Then he reminded everyone to VOTE, and gave another thank-you shout out to donors and sponsors, before reading the names of our 4 raffle winners – 3 received a $50 Visa gift card, and 1 received a $100 Visa gift card and digital video camera!

Congratulations to our amazing graduates – we are happy, proud and excited for you as you continue to pursue your goals and build new lives. And thank you to everyone who joined us for the celebration! 

You can watch the graduation on the BOSS Facebook page.

Donate NOW to support CTEC and BOSS reentry programs year-round.

For more information on CTEC, contact Tim Smith at tsmith@self-sufficiency.org or 510-649-1930 x 3008.

2020 CTEC Graduation Sponsors & Donors
Leader Sponsor: Dan Scarola
Partner Sponsors: ACLU of Northern California, Hamilton Hunt
Mentor Sponsors: Troy Dye, Marlene Hurd, Andrea Spillmann-Gajek, Rob Tufel
Gift Bag Donors: BOSS, La Familia, Claremont Club & Spa (A Fairmont Hotel), BOSS Board of Directors