October 26, 2018, Oakland, CA – On a warm Friday evening at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Oakland, parents, children, and other family members gathered to celebrate loved ones who were graduating from a very special program, entering the sanctuary foyer filled with green, gold and black balloons and pictures of past graduations. For this particular graduation, family members were not the only ones celebrating – special guests included U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle, renowned author and motivational speaker Kemba Smith, and the community at large. The occasion? The 7th Graduating Class of the BOSS Career Training and Employment Center (CTEC)!
CTEC began in 2014, in partnership with the Alameda County Probation Department, with the goal of helping citizens returning from incarceration find jobs and reduce prison recidivism. To quote the opening remarks of Graduation Master of Ceremonies, Arnold Perkins, “The program so far has exceeded BOSS’s expectations… because of the quality of life changes BOSS has seen among the men, women, families, and communities being served….the pride of accomplishment, the joy of contributing to the community, the relief of moving forward and carving a new path, the happiness of families reunited, and the healing created by giving people the dignity of work, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.”
The 84 men and women honored at the BOSS CTEC Graduation gala (not all of whom could attend – many had to work!) had all completed the CTEC education and training curriculum, and are now employed in the community, and are actively rebuilding their lives and supporting themselves and their families. This is the definition of success!
As guests and graduates entered the venue, they could have their photos taken by Thomas Mullins against a BOSS logo backdrop to mark the occasion. Once seated and the program began, we were delighted and honored to be joined by a surprise guest – U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee! She made brief remarks, sharing her pride in the graduates, her encouragement for their continuing journeys, and her assurance that she is fighting as hard as possible in Washington for fairer policies and more resources for communities in need.
Arnold then introduced the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, who had everyone on their feet joining in with their inspirational music!
Both BOSS Executive Director Donald Frazier and La Familia Executive Director Aaron Ortiz made some welcoming remarks, then presented a series of 2018 BOSS Gratitude Awards to some of CTEC’s key partners, including:
- Alameda County Board of Supervisors – Accepted on the Board’s behalf by Supervisor Richard Valle, for supporting innovative reentry initiatives
- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf – Who shared her pride in the courage and perseverance of the graduates, and their exemplification of Oakland strength!
- Alameda County Probation – Core CTEC funder and partner
- Alameda County Human Resource Services – Employer partner, hiring CTEC participants!
- Alameda County Social Services Agency – Employer partner
- Alameda County Health Care Services Agency – Supporting innovative reentry initaitives
- Alameda County Housing & Community Development – Supporting innovative reentry initiatives
- Whole Foods – Employer partner
- Mechanics Bank – Employer partner
- SAS Automotive – Employer partner
- Pacific Office Automation – Lead Graduation sponsor
- Arnold Perkins – Long-time graduation MC!
These award recipients demonstrate the truism that change cannot happen in a vacuum – it takes all parts of the community working together, to create opportunity and hope! BOSS is proud to be in a progressive community that is leading the way towards criminal justice reform, and successful community reintegration.
State Senator Nancy Skinner then took the stage to introduce her friend and event keynote speaker Kemba Smith, observing that Kemba is, literally, the ‘poster child’ for all that has been wrong, and racist, about the ‘War on Drugs’, and she assured the audience that state legislators are trying hard to change our unequitable criminal justice system.
Kemba Smith (author of Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story) then stole the show with her grace, strength, and optimism, shining brightly despite the harrowing personal life story she shared of getting mixed up in drug activity through a college boyfrind and winding up with a 24 year federal prison sentence. Her story has all the elements CTEC deals with on a daily basis – one bad mistake, paid for with the harshest of punishments…warnings – and then life-saving support – from family members…hitting rock bottom and ultimately deciding to take a different path. Unlike many people’s stories, Kemba’s had a happy ending because her case was taken up by advocates who successfully fought for the commutation of her sentence, and she was released after just 6 ½ years, with a new life goal – sharing her story to help and inspire others, and change the system that leads to horrific experiences like hers.
Two Graduate Valedictorians then shared their personal stories – Josh Morris (from BOSS), and Nelson Edriano (from La Familia), and were showered with love, admiration, and support from the audience, and especially the family members who have and continue to stand by them. Strong families are the number one lifeline of returning citizens – they are the bedrock of our neighborhoods!
Finally, the moment we had all gathered for – the presentation of the 2018 CTEC Graduating Class! All graduates received Certificates of Achievement from BOSS, State Senator Nancy Skinner, State Assembly Members Rob Bonta, Tony Thurmond, and Bill Quirk, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Oakland City Council Member Lynette McElhaney, as well as gift bags containing a BOSS cap, La Familia water bottle, notebook and pen from Mechanics Bank, chocolate bar from Whole Foods, and 7” digital Android-compatible tablet!
Arnold then closed the program and invited everyone to adjourn to Wendt Hall for the delicious dinner prepared by FiftySevenNorth catering consisting of smothered chicken, roasted pasta salad, herb rice pilaf, lemon pepper green beans, and brown butter banana bread! Graduates and families shared food and stories, relaxing now that the drama of the ceremony was over, with upbeat music playing in the background. It was an evening they will carry in their hearts with pride forever – the very reason BOSS holds Graduation!
Photos by Thomas Mullins | More graduation pictures HERE – Video will be uploaded soon, stay tuned!
THANK YOU to our Event Sponsors!
If you are an employer willing to hire someone with a record who is working hard to change their life, contact BOSS Director of Workforce Development Clyde Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510.419.0669.
If you want to support or sponsor the 2019 CTEC Graduation, contact BOSS Director of Development & Marketing Sonja Fitz at email@example.com or 510.649.1930 x 1008.