On Thursday October 22nd 2015, three young men, Jacoby Manning, Gregory Moore, and Michael Belford, stood outside the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, looking handsome in black and white attire and standing ready to help the BOSS Food Services Manager, Craig Edelblut, unload food when he arrived. By all appearances, it looked just like three young helpers at any one of a hundred catered events happening in the East Bay every day. These, however, were no ordinary men, and the food being prepared was for no ordinary party – this was the BOSS CTEC Graduation!
Held at the inspiring setting of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland – a local wellspring of compassion, community, and social justice – the BOSS Career Training and Employment Center (CTEC) Graduation honors men and women who have emerged from great challenges (homelessness, poverty, former incarceration, substance abuse, and more) and have successfully completed six months of thorough training and are now gainfully employed!
On October 22nd, BOSS held its 2nd CTEC Graduation (the first was in March), honoring 30 men and women who are now productive, self-sufficient, hardworking members of our community, with positive futures ahead of them. BOSS staff and CTEC ushers greeted guests, handed out programs, and showed them to their seats. A stellar array of dignitaries and elected officials joined the celebration to honor their achievement, and share words of wisdom and inspiration— numerous people from Alameda County Probation and Alameda County Housing & Community Development, representatives from VForce Staffing Solutions and Comerica Bank, Gordon Baranco from Alameda County Superior Court, Lyanne Mendez from Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s office, and former California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner.
“I like the name of the organization,” proclaimed former Alameda County Probation Chief David Muhammed, now the National Director of Justice Programs at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in his keynote remarks, “Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency… it reminds us that no one can make someone walk through the door to new lives, but we can – and we must – offer opportunities to do so.”
Opening the ceremony was a joyful and rousing performance by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, led by Terrance Kelly, who had the audience clapping, standing, and dancing. Their performance was followed by a message of love and unity by Reverend Jacqueline Duhart of the host church, First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Reverend Duhart talked about the hard work and sacrifice made by all the graduates, but also the love and support of their friends and families. She suggested that we not let our past mistakes and outcomes define us, but to use them as opportunities for learning; a lesson not jut to the graduates, but to all of us.
Rodney Brooks, Chief of Staff for Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, then took the stage, and shared his appreciation for BOSS and for the men and women who were being honored, before recognizing the constellation of dignitaries who were also present and handing the mic over to Master of Ceremonies Arnold Perkins.
Arnold Perkins, Chairperson of the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission and long-time BOSS Supporter, spoke directly to the graduates, their friends, and families as he spoke about taking a moment to be present and recognize the hard work and dedication it has taken to get to this point. “We, as a community, have all come here tonight to celebrate you, and your accomplishments.”
There were three Student Speakers: Ronald Broach, Alum from the first CTEC Graduation in March 2015, Derek Powell, the Partners in Re-Entry Programs (PREP) Valedictorian, and Marnicka Powell, CTEC Valedictorian and first woman to graduate the CTEC program. All three talked about the differences in their lives before the program and now, the difficulty of the work involved in those changes, and the people who helped to make those changes possible.
Donald Frazier, Executive Director of BOSS, was the final person to step up to the podium. He called out the names and a short biography for each of the 30 graduates. In turn, each person came to the stage, walked up the steps, engaged in a few congratulatory handshakes, and was handed a Certificate of Graduation! For many individuals, this was their very first graduation ceremony. There were many smiles and more than a few happy tears.
After all the names were called, all of the graduates erupted from their seats and, in time-honored fashion, tossed their graduation caps into the air!
The evening was brought to a close by two performers, CJ Simbre and Malik of Aquarius, who gave a moving performance of the song Glory, originally performed by John Legend and Common and featured in the movie Selma.
Every day women and men become legends
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours
A fitting ending to a truly glorious evening. Thank you to all the people who supported these individuals – to all the friends, family members, judges, probation officers, educators, and employer partners. And, finally, congratulations to the graduates, the ones who did all the hard work and who have turned their lives around!!