Friday September 23, 2016, Oakland, CA – With a late summer heat wave blanketing the East Bay, the feelings at Oakland City Hall a week ago last Friday were equally warm – with love, camaraderie, pride, and high hopes filling the Council Chambers as BOSS celebrated our 4th Career Training & Employment Center (CTEC) graduation!
Guests climbed the tall staircase at Oakland City Hall, under the beautiful, stately, and high ceiling, up to the Council Chambers, where BOSS had been invited by Michael Hunt, Assistant to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, to hold our 4th CTEC graduation ceremony. As they were greeted and checked in by BOSS staff Junea Lewis and Nanette Francois (from the BOSS Benefits & Entitlements Specialist Team), CTEC graduates—men and women who have completed the CTEC training curriculum and found gainful employment—were handed their graduation cap and program, and were invited to find a seat in front, along with their family members. Other guests at the ceremony included representatives from fellow nonprofit service providers and the City of Oakland, who came to share in the inspirational work the graduates have done.
The evening opened with welcoming remarks from BOSS Executive Director Donald Frazier, who shared his great pride in what the graduates have accomplished and in the innovative reentry programs BOSS has been developing for the past two years, before turning the podium over to the Reverend Dr. Kevin D. Barnes, pastor of Oakland’s Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church and author of Raising Successful Young Black Men, who gave a stirring invocation and set the tone for a celebration of hope and change.
Dr. Barnes was followed by BOSS Director of Reentry Services Tim Smith, who introduced Ron Wilson. Ron shared his personal story of redemption and success—from his experiences in the criminal justice system to his emergence as a successful business man, service provider, and mentor to others now going through similar experiences. Ron is a Career Coach Program Manager with Rubicon, and facilitates financial education workshops while marketing his “You are your brand” “PYF – Pay Yourself First” and “We got to see it to be it” to the community.
Pat Mesiti, a volunteer with CTEC, then took the stage to introduce the work he has been doing with CTEC participants—helping them share their stories through the ancient, compelling art of storytelling. Two CTEC participants, Paris Anderson and David Lovell, gave a powerful performance, combining their personal stories into an unforgettable whirlwind of back-and-forth poetic expression.
Storytelling was followed by remarks from a past CTEC graduate—Greg Crosby—who told of his evolution through the CTEC program and employment, and how his work at Comcast brings him into situations he never thought he would find himself in, alone in the homes of wealthy local residents and all their belongings, who let him take care of his work without supervision. “Sometimes I can’t believe they do that,” he says, “but today I would never even think of…” his voice trails off, remembering a past self he no longer is. He expressed his gratitude for the encouragement and support of CTEC staff, his pride clearly written on his smiling face.
Joanna Martinez, CTEC Career Services Coordinator, was next on stage (“Some of you know me as Miss Martinez,” she said, smiling), to recognize CTEC particpants who have taken the exciting, but longer-term, route of continuing their educations—education being the biggest predictor of successful reintegration following incarceration. She read the names of participants who are now enrolled in college, and their courses of study—as the participants stood up, once by one, to receive congratulatory applause from the audience.
Finally, Ronald Broach, CTEC Intake Coordinator, and Gwen Austin, BOSS Development Associate & Community Builder, took the stage to hand out the graduation certificates and gift bags to all graduates. 31 men and women were identified as graduates in this round, although not all of them could attend the ceremony due to being at work! Those who attended crossed the stage to accept their gifts (including an electronic tablet and BOSS logo-embroidered baseball cap) and certificates (from BOSS, State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf), and shake Donald’s hand before moving to the back of the room for a group photo at the completion of the presentation. “And now, your 2016 CTEC graduates!” called Ronald as the last graduate moved around the podium and the audience got to their feet, showing its great admiration for this amazing group!
Donald once more took the stage to thank everyone for coming, and invited them to move down the street to the CTEC offices, where BOSS Managing Director Tes Ikharo had personally prepared a special dinner of gourmet sliders, rice and salad, with cake donated by Andronico’s Markets.
The CTEC graduation is a demonstration of the transformative power of support, hope, and love—and underscores BOSS’s firm belief that every person is capable of amazing growth, if given the right opportunities and resources! For more pictures from the event, click here. To donate to CTEC, click here. To get involved as a volunteer, employer, or partner, contact Joanna Martinez at email@example.com, or 510-419-0669.