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Why I'm a part of the Dream Team

By Roger Leu

ShakaVan_Commonwealth_(1).pngMy family still calls me by my Chinese-given name, roughly translated to “little winter melon.” Though partially attributed to my gratuitous baby fat, the nickname also aptly describes my still and observant nature. I have always found people, culture, and human behavior fascinating. Why do people do the things they do? Why did Tom Cruise jump uncontrollably on The Oprah Show some years ago? Why do people find Keeping up with the Kardashians so compelling? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I grew up in Berkeley, California, a relatively small town in the San Francisco Bay Area known for tie-dyed shirts, colorful protests, and subversive thinking. My parents are first generation immigrants who emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in search of a better future. My dad first worked as a dishwasher and a gas attendant to pay the bills. My mom briefly worked on a fiber optics assembly line. They are quintessential pragmatists that would rather have me put on five layers of clothing than turn on the heater, unplug the idle power strip rather than pay for electricity, and shop at swap meets instead of department stores.

The look on their faces when I told them I wanted to pursue a career in social work was one of sheer confusion and terror (think Edvard Munch’s The Scream). “Is that like depression?” they asked in an English-Chinese improvisation. I simply responded, “It’s like having a big heart and helping people for a living.”

Social workers are so often misrepresented in pop culture as villains that invade your home and steal your children on behalf of the government. This is a terrific example to not believe everything you see on television! A social worker is the shoulder you lean on when you have a bad day. We are the extra ear that listens when you need to vent. We fight for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. We are your advocates, your confidants, your strongest supporters, your champions of social justice.  

The #cut50, #YesWeCode, and Green For All initiatives here at The Dream Corps are united under the umbrella of social justice. We continue the fight for a brighter future that includes all communities regardless of race, gender, color, or creed. We are agents of change that support closing prison doors and opening the doors of opportunity.

The #cut50 team has been advocating tirelessly for 2.2 million people remaining behind prison doors. As a social worker and a member of the #cut50 team, I am proud to work toward intelligently reducing the prison population in 10 years, and to engage in a bipartisan effort that rises above politics. Individuals in prison are often suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder; we must remember to arm ourselves with kindness, compassion, and empathy to combat arguably one of the biggest moral crises in our time.

As I look at the road ahead, I cannot help but think of what the great Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These words are as true today as the day they were written. Indeed, there is still injustice in the world, and we must continue to fight for equality, justice, and the inherent worth of all beings.    

I am inspired by the small acts of kindness I see every day. When I leave the BART station and see a passing stranger hand a homeless man a dollar, I am inspired. When I see a group of friends organizing their waste into trash, recycle, and compost bins, I am hopeful. When I see Buzzfeed articles that combat the stigma of mental illness, I am filled with confidence about the future of humanity.


Elections, Conventions and #JusticeReformNOW

We are still reeling from an amazing week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the first time in history, both political parties are making a bold statement against the incarceration industry with the Democrats’ Platform calling for an “end to the era of mass incarceration.”

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#23Ways

In an exclusive video for Mic, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Common, Chris Rock, Taraji P. Henson, Van Jones and others describe the mundane actions that cost black Americans their lives. Watch below:


For the full post from Mic's Jamilah King, click here


A Heartbreaking Week

Van spent hours on air last week -- reacting to tragedy after tragedy live. His words speak for themselves:

"We need to reach down and find some empathy. If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancé but you didn't cry this morning for those police officers, it is time to do a heart check. If you cried for those police officers but have a hard time taking seriously all these videos coming out with these African-Americans dying, it is time to do a heart check. Because a country -- we are either going to come together or come apart now. There is enough pain on both sides there should be some empathy starting to kick in."

For the full playlist of discussions from last week, click below.


Incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary Collect Donations For Flint, MI

"Even though we are incarcerated, we still care about the community.”

A group of incarcerated men at the Oregon State Penitentiary raised $800 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Inspired by their efforts, Dream Corps raised a matching donation in support of the organization's work in Flint. Thank you to all who helped raise a matching donation in support of the incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. 

When a group of incarcerated men at the Oregon State Penitentiary learned about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that had exposed thousands of residents to contamination, they were shocked and impacted by the stories of families subjected to using polluted water.

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                                          From left to right: D’Angelo Turner, Jeremy Hays, Troy Ramsey, Grover Clegg

"I was sitting on my bunk in my cell watching TV. Flipping channels. I saw people on the Steve Harvey show talking about how they couldn’t shower with the tap water," said Troy Ramsey who initiated the fundraiser. "I thought, ‘What can I do from where I’m at to help the Flint community?” 

With the necessary approvals needed to begin collecting donations, a group convened to devise a plan to raise money to the Flint community. Hoping to raise $500, the group was able to raise $800 for Flint with the generous $1, $2, and $5 donations from inmates.

“These are not small donations,” explained Ramsey. “ The average income for inmates is about $49 per month, and we have to use that for all our hygiene items, foods, etc.  A lot of the guys also have obligations to kids and families.”

In an interview with the Dream Corps, Kosal So, who helped Ramsey organize the Flint fundraising efforts, reflected on his own journey and how his experiences influence the work he does from within the prison.

“I was kicked out of school. I didn’t learn to read. We lose confidence and get wrapped up in the streets. I was in and out of the juvenile system. Once you are in that, you are stuck. Now I work to raise money for kids to go to college.”

Like So, other incarcerated men also use the examples of their own lives as a vehicle for change in their communities and society.

“Just because I’m incarcerated doesn’t change morals and values. I used to deliver food to the homeless on Thanksgiving,” said Grover Clegg who helped lead fundraising efforts. “I drove a truck for a freight company and would use that to drive around on Thanksgiving to deliver food”

Though making donations may not be easy for inmates, fundraising is not new to this group who frequently engage in efforts that contribute to a variety of issues.

“I have been involved in a number of efforts,” said D’Angelo Turner another leader in the Flint fundraiser. “ I have written a re-entry program. I raised money for Missus Harris who was diagnosed with orphans disease – cancer – back in 2005 or 2007.”

Incarcerated men involved with the fundraiser noted that it is these efforts that cross racial groups bringing together groups typically segregated based on race.

“Our effort cut across racial groups,” said fundraiser leader Eric Nitschke. “ There are cliques in prison. This fundraiser was also helping people unite across groups and begin to break this down.”

Nitschke added, “I couldn’t believe that we in America could do this to our people. I learned about the change [of drinking water source] from the lake to the river.  They knew it was polluted.  It shocked me that someone who wasn’t drinking the water made that decision.”

This story of incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary organizing a fundraiser to benefit victims of the Flint water crisis lives at the intersection of environmental and criminal  justice, which hits close to home for the Dream Corps and our initiatives.

Here at the Dream Corps, we support economic, environmental and criminal justice innovators. We serve to uplift powerful voices of those impacted by the criminal justice system--like this group of incarcerated men--and ensure that we are working towards an inclusive green economy.

We are deeply inspired by this effort. To support the efforts of the incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary, the Dream Corps has committed to raising a matching donation of $800 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Help us raise matching funds for every child, family, and business in the community of Flint affected by the water crisis.

 


Beyond Prisons: A Conversation at the Castro



 

Shaka Senghor with son Sekou and Van Jones

As President and Cofounder of #Cut50 Van Jones introduced New York Times—bestselling author and #Cut50 Director of Strategy Shaka Senghor at the packed Castro Theatre in San Francisco Wednesday night, he got a laugh by first thanking the crowd for missing the Warriors playoffs to attend a conversation on criminal justice reform. Then he talked about how Shaka’s memoir, “Writing My Wrongs,” is one of those books that, by the time you have finished, you have become a different person.

“Tonight,” said Van, “we’re going to have a real conversation. Shaka, you’re from Detroit, you were abused in childhood, you ran away, joined a gang, got shot, then shot back. Then you went to prison for second-degree murder for 19 years, 7 of those in solitary confinement. Since you’ve been out, you’ve been on the front lines pushing for changes to the system. You wrote a memoir and by some miracle wound up in the hands of Oprah Winfrey--perhaps you all have heard of her--and now you’ve been to the White House, twice. What happened in between? What’s prison like up close?”

Shaka started by dispelling the myths that prisons are full of crazy people and lazy people.. "In prison, there's a 100% forced employment rate," he said. "I made an astounding 13 cents an hour cleaning a unit full of frat house males, subjecting myself to hepatitis. Prisons are an $80 billion industry, and they are getting their money's worth. But are we? I don’t know many other industries with a 70% failure rate." The crowd laughed. 

Video Clip: Shaka on Employment vs. Unemployment

Shaka continued, "I met amazing men serving life in prison who became my mentors, gave me books that transformed my life. The work I do today is because of the unsung heroes I met in prison.”

 


Shaka was interviewed last month on Oprah Winfrey's SuperSoul Sunday. She also bought his movie rights. Shaka is close, too, with top venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. Said Van, "People in Silicon Valley would push their best friend in front of a BART train to talk to Horowitz. And yet your most powerful mentors are people we have thrown away forever.” Shaka told the audience about the great political and legal minds in prison. “You wouldn't believe the level of wasted genius. It’s a very innovative place. I’d love to take all you Silicon Valley people to prison and show you some of the things we made up. When I started working with MIT Media Labs, I gave some design challenges to some of their brilliant minds. For example, can you pass a message across a corridor using only a toilet paper roll, a tube of toothpaste, and a pair of underwear? They couldn’t. Yet that was our Internet system in prison. 'Check your email.'" He got a big laugh, but added, "Innovate at MIT and you’ll be validated; in prison, you’re labeled a troublemaker.”

So how does one write a book in the toughest place on earth? “Most of us have dreams we’re not achieving, and we all have excuses,' said Van. "You wrote your first book while doing a 4 ½ year stretch in solitary confinement. The rest of us have writer’s block at Starbucks. How were you able to break out of your internal prison?”

Shaka said he didn't know he had the skill till he tried. He said he wanted to leave something for his son. He thought, if you're sincere about turning your life around, then challenge yourself to write a book. He did it in n 30 days with no laptop. He had only a flimsy pens that could not be used as weapons. Even paper was limited. When he finished, he sent his manuscript by string to the cell directly across. The other guy said it was the best book he’d ever read. "Then I remembered," said Shake, "the dude’s in solitary confinement--any book’s going to be the best book."

Video Clip: Shaka on Writing 

Shaka went on to write a second book, then a third. And he fell into a severe depression, because he had discovered he had a dream worth living for. "They don’t give you an end point when you’re in solitary - it’s part of the psychological control,” he said.

Van talked about coming from the Black Faith tradition. But what about Shaka? He asked if a spiritual root helped him blossom. They compared polyester pastels worn to church during their 70s childhoods. And Shaka said while he doesn't often talk about his faith, he did start to center his life in prison on my belief that the world is infinitely abundant." He wrote a letter to the warden telling him that if he let Shaka out of solitary, it would be one of the best decisions he ever made. The warden agreed, but his higher-up didn't, and Shaka spent another year in solitary. But finally, he got to go to jail.

Van started laughing, “You had a dream, to get to jail!” And Shaka couldn't help but laugh. “Yes, and I promised myself, if i ever get out of solitary i’m going to do the George Jefferson stroll.” Van added, "You can tell right now how old people here are by who gets it, who’s laughing.” 

Shaka said, “I was moving on up to a new me.”

Video Clip: Shaka on Spirituality

 

 

Shaka went to prison when he was 19 and came out when he was 38. If prison is the complete opposite of being a human being, what does it feel like to get out?" Shaka said he just wanted to have the feeling of drinking a juice of his own choosing from his own refrigerator. That, for him, was the ability to be human.

But he knew he had a responsibility to speak for the ones he left behind. He said, “The level of mental illness in prison would blow your minds. The worst abuse against mankind is the way the mentally ill are treated in prison. The cutters in solitary for example, don't’ receive treatment but are instead chained to their beds to stop the self-mutilating."

Again and again throughout the night, Shaka mentioned hope. It's what people on the inside need the most and have the least. It doesn't help that the majority of prisoners aren’t in contact with anybody on the outside. "These are men and women we’ve thrown away. A simple letter or phone call doesn’t cost us much," said Shaka. "Expand empathy in spaces that aren't your natural ecosystem. There’s no forgiveness for the currently incarcerated or for those coming home."

Shaka reminded the audience that everyone of them has done something they're not proud of. Van couldn't resist, “Look at how some of yall are dressed," he said looking out at the crowd, then added, "I joke, I joke.”

Shaka talked about a trip to Germany last year to see their prisons, and how he expected them to be harsh. "I was shocked," said Shaka. "From the very first moment of incarceration they work to get people back into society. They actually get them working in society. They don’t use solitary. Family visits are mandatory. And they don’t sentence children to life in prison.”


The last segment of the evening was audience questions. A moderator called from the right side of the theatre, "We have a question from the right." Van said, "Hopefully not the real right." It was someone wanting to know about the fiasco that occurred when they got invited to the White House. Shaka and Van recalled rushing that hot day, from the train station, running down the street in their suits.

"I’m not the type to put a suit on," said Shaka. "Now, I always get nervous going through security. My name was on the list, but when I heard ‘one second, sir,’ I knew it was going down hill from there. I stood outside for 2 hours in my suit in the 90-degree heat." Shaka explained that it was a very difficult moment, to be invited to the White House and then barred. He did eventually get inside, and was even invited back. Van pointed out that Obama has made sweeping prison reforms this year.

The night was not only a big window into prison existence, but also the realities of coming home. "When I got out of prison, every apartment turned me down," said Shaka. "I aced a job interview, they said they wanted me, then later I found out I didn’t get the job because of my felony." It is, after all, legal to discriminate against felons. 

Shaka recalled how demoralizing was that moment, wanting to do the right thing, and being told he was unworthy. "Soon after I got out of prison, we were expecting a baby, and I was asking myself ‘how am i going to take care of my family? And it occurred to me that with one phone call I could be back in the gang, because the streets are always hiring. If not for the help of my friends, I might have become homeless or turned to substance abuse."

Just before he brought that child, Sekou, up on the stage, and his standing ovation, he said, "It's about giving people a fair chance. These are regular people with hearts and souls who want to dream and work and live with dignity. Human resilience is really what it’s about.” 

If you’d like to take action, sign up at #cut50. Buy yourself a copy of Writing My Wrongs at #BeyondPrisons and buy one for a friend. Shaka suggest the JPay app for writing to prisoners.  

 

Video Clip: Beyond Prisons: A Conversation About Criminal Justice Reform (FULL SHOW)

 

 


Russell Simmons Convenes Allies for #JusticeReformNOW

“Every once in awhile a book comes around that changes the conversation,” said Van Jones, President of Dream Corps and co-founder of #cut50. He was introducing Shaka Senghor, author of Writing My Wrongs and director of strategy and innovation at #cut50, to a house full of friends and allies on a rainy night in Los Angeles.

That evening, music executive Russell Simmons, who has been a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform, hosted stars like Alicia Silverstone, Aloe Blacc, and Harrison Barnes to learn more about the fight for reform in 2016 and hear Shaka’s story of redemption and transformation.

“We need criminal justice reform now because there are far too many men and women being locked up and not given a second chance,” said Shaka, who gave one of the top 10 TED talks of 2014. Members of his audience had tears in their eyes as he recounted his 7 years in solitary confinement and the difficulty of watching his children grow up while he was incarcerated.

Shaka Senghor and Russell Simmons

“There are far too many children growing up without parents. My parents had to drive for 12 hours just so I could touch my own children for a moment, before they were taken away again.”

 Shaka is co-founder of #BeyondPrisons, a new initiative of #cut50 and Dream Corps.

Shaka is set to become a household name in 2016. His soon-to-be-released memoir traces his journey from childhood to the streets of Detroit, where he sold drugs and lived a life of crime that resulted in a 19-year-prison sentence.

Note: Pre-order your copy of Writing My Wrongs and receive an exclusive excerpt from the book: http://bit.ly/1SI51tR

 

Shaka Senghor and Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors

 “Incarceration destroys individuals, families, and communities,” said #cut50 National Director Jessica Jackson Sloan, whose husband was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a non-violent crime, leaving her with a small daughter who asked everyday to see her dad. Sloan talked about the inhumane hardships their family faced, like not even knowing which facilities he was being moved to, or not being able to afford the weekly $21 phone call.

#cut50’s Jessica Jackson Sloan

 “The idea we can all get behind is the economics,” said former BET President Reggie Hudlin. “It costs so much more to send a person to prison than to college. As a nation we are hurting ourselves putting so many resources into warehousing people, where they arguably become worse criminals. The tragedy of the prison system is no one is talking about breaking the cycle, rehabilitation, and reducing crime in a meaningful way.”

 #cut50 urged everyone to sign the petition asking Congress and the President to end the culture of punishment run amuck.

#cut50 team directors Shaka Senghor, Van Jones, and Jessica Jackson Sloan


Less Equal than Ever

 

In a city that has come to symbolize the growing inequality gap, The Nation magazine hosted a conversation about the country’s inequality crisis with a panel of experts. San Francisco was the city, and Less Equal than Ever was the theme, and the occasion was the 150th birthday of the magazine begun by anti-slavery abolitionists in 1856.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Dream Corps Founder Van Jones, National Domestic Workers Alliance Director Ai-jen Poo and The Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel talked about “the greatest threat to the world,” according to a 2014 Pew survey. It’s a core issue on which The Nation has long been sounding the alarm. The event was  co-presented by the Commonwealth Club November 17 at the packed Herbst Theater.  

 Moderator Judge LaDoris Cordell opened with a trick question: “Who said this? ‘‘Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.’”

 The answer surprised the crowd. It was Mitt Romney, earlier this year, just one example of how Republicans are now incorporating this message along with Democrats.  

“The wealth controlled by the top tenth of the top 1 percent has more than doubled over the past 30 years in the United States, approaching unprecedented levels,” said Cardell. “Are we about to tip?” she queried the panel.

“No,” said Robert Reich with finality, then dramatic silence that brought a laugh from the audience. Then he continued, “The good news is inequality is something people are talking about. For Republicans, this is fashionable to talk about now.”

For Ai-jen Poo, a conversation about inequality starts with wages. “Low wage workers are organizing now, fighting for $15. Starbucks baristas. Walmart workers--they’re organizing with the same vibrance of Black Lives Matter. We are in the early stages of next great social movement,” said Poo.  

“From an African American perspective, the conversation about inequality starts with mass incarceration. It is, in fact, the most significant defining issue of the African American community,” said Van Jones, founder of #Cut50, a national initiative to cut prison population by 50% in 10 years. “The incarceration rate of African Americans is six times that of their peers, though their white counterparts are doing drugs at the same rate. You can’t give African Americans a fair shot at equality in this society if you’re making them felons for doing the same thing as young kids in college or some of you are doing this weekend.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel, who has been Editor of The Nation since 1995 and a frequent commentator on inequality, said, “Cynicism about government is the wrong way to go. Blaming people is dead politics on arrival. Show how you can improve the conditions of people’s lives.”

Poo jumped in to give concrete ideas for improving 27 million lives in the upcoming “silver tsunami”: The senior (85+) population is the fastest growing and soon to be the largest demographic ever. Homecare is such a fast-growing occupation that the average median income is still just $13,000. By 2050, 27 million people will need care. “If we could connect the dots, we could invest in an infrastructure now,” said Poo. “This is the kind of inequality agenda that connects people across race and ideology.”

Cordell concluded the evening asking each panel member, “What would you do about inequality if you were elected President?” Poo said she would create a new system to support caregiving for families. Jones said end mass incarceration. Vanden Heuvel said end America’s endless engagement in wars. Reich had the last word. “Get big money out of politics,” he said. Reich underscored his optimism to close out the evening. “I’ve been teaching for 35 years,” said Reich, a professor at University of California, Berkeley.  “I’ve never seen a more idealistic group of young people than the current one. We can build a coalition working toward equality based on interconnectedness. As the market tilts and the wealthy have even more power, grassroots organizations will be the countervailing power in working for equality.”

   

 


Alicia Keys and Van Jones Take Justice Reform to Capitol Hill

Alicia Keys took to a different stage this week to ask Congressional members to sign a petition for justice reform that she will deliver to President Obama once it reaches 1 million signatures.

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Alicia Keys speaks to lawmakers. 

"I am a mother," said Keys. "My heart is breaking for mothers left behind by incarceration, struggling to hold it all together. There are 1.1 million fathers in prison and 5 million children with a parent in prison. Is that our America? Is this who we are now?"

Keys began the day in East Baltimore with #Cut50's Van Jones. Her organization We Are Here joined forces Monday with #Cut50, which aims to reduce prison sentences by 50 percent in 10 years.

In the same community where unarmed black man Freddie Gray died earlier this year in police custody, Keys talked to children and mothers forced to support their children alone, stigmatized. "Their lives are full of stress and they do their best not to lose hope. In a way they have been imprisoned too," said Keys.

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Van Jones, Alicia Keys and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. 

She spoke to children affected and mothers whose children were tried as adults when they were as young as 14. “We can no longer afford to be this cruel to our young," said Keys. “These are just regular boys and girls trying to find their way."

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson of the HBO series "The Wire" gave Keys and Jones a tour of the street where she grew up, of boarded-up row houses and a funeral home where many of her friends ended up way too young. Snoop was born a premature crack baby to a mother who was in and out of prison and a father she never knew but who was believed to be a local stick up artist. She was convicted of second-degree murder at age 14, sentenced to 16 years, and released after 6½. Snoop spoke of the difficulty of re-entry into society, a subject Keys addressed later that day on Capitol Hill.

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Snoop gives Jones a tour of the street she grew up on. 

"Currently, when released, ex offenders are forced into a life in the shadows," said Keys. "They can’t vote, they’re ineligible for public housing, food stamps, and often barred from formal employment due to their status as convicted felons. We need to ban the box on job applications. It's up to the private sector. Starbucks and Facebook have no box to tick, showing us the power in believing in second chances."

In less than 30 years, since the "war on drugs" began, the penal population has risen from 300,000 to 2.3 million. It costs between $30,000 and $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison, and reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders could save $40 billion a year. "Can you imagine the good a mother could do with that money?" Keys asked Congressional lawmakers, urging them to sign the petition. 

"Moments of opportunity like this come along once in a generation," said Jones, who also spoke to the packed room about letting judges judge and providing alternatives to prison like rehab and job training.

Jones introduced one of the most vocal leaders of criminal justice reform, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who spoke of the progress in introducing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. It would be the most significant federal action in decades and has the backing of the White House, where Obama has made criminal justice reform a pillar of his second-term agenda.

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Keys meets with Baltimore kids affected by incarceration. 

Keys' deep, rich voice filled the room as she spoke of an extraordinary moment to change the country, and her performer's instincts crept in as she punctuated her words with expressive hands and measured each word musically: "You have the ability to change things. Not them. You. Us. We."

 


This Week in Dream Corps

As this is our first This Week in Dream Corps blog, let me explain how it is here. At our Dream Corps office in downtown Oakland, you could be talking about ending mass incarceration one minute, training disadvantaged youth to code the next, then getting dirty energy to invest in the communities they pollute. You have to think fast because there’s breaking news in each of our three arenas all week long. It’s kind of fun to try to keep up, and to see all the connections from our Oakland office to current events--for example:  

  • Oprah recently bought the movie rights to our own #cut50 Director of Strategy Shaka Senghor’s memoir.

  • Or there was the time last week that a police officer assaulted a non-violent student in South Carolina, and our #Cut50 Director of Policy Matt Haney quickly responded in the press because he happens to be VP of the San Francisco School Board and championed an innovative alternative to student discipline that avoids herding kids into the legal system.

  • Twitter, eBay, Yelp, Pinterest, Square and dozens of other tech leaders recently announced they are teaming with #YesWeCode to hire non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years in light of a million-worker shortage coming by 2020.

  • And when the EPA added the Clean Power Plan to the Federal Registry in late October and 26 states immediately sued to block it, our #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong took to the road to bust the myths and share the success stories of real Californians whose energy bills did not in fact go up as the naysayers predicted--like Maria Zavala, whose bill went from $200 a year to $1.50.    

 Maria Zavala & family, photo courtesy of The Greenlining Institute and UpLiftCA

This week brought the usual whirlwind of interesting developments, and as usual our Dream Corps team was traveling all over the place.

Wednesday #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong and Dream Corps President Van Jones were speaking to a Hollywood crowd hosted by Mark Ruffalo that included Normal Lear and Alicia Silverstone. The event was called Hollywood United for a Healthy California, and the point, says Vien Truong, was “to tell Governor Brown to leave oil in the ground.” She talked to the entertainment industry crowd about the lies being told about how the green movement hurts low-income people. Van Jones said, "Good people got together and said let's take dollars out of polluters pockets and use those dollars to green up poor communities. It went from being a fantasy that people like me wrote bestsellers about but didn't know how to make happen to a fact today in California. California has invested $1 billion dollars in a clean power economy for poor folks in the last two years."  

#GreenForAll's Vien Truong and Mark Ruffalo

Another cool conversation occurred in San Jose at the Verge sustainability conference between Van Jones and Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager and founder of Farallon Capital Management. Their keynote was called “The Business Opportunity Hiding in Plain Sight,” which was about getting the business crowd to engage all communities in the sustainability movement.

Van Jones, who is a CNN Political Commentator, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday as a panelist, and offered this meaty bone to chew on, “What’s so weird is that we’re in this moment where we have a white female who’s a front-runner for the Democrats. We don’t even notice that anymore. We now have an African-American man, front-runner for the Republicans. Ben Carson bewilders, I think most black Democrats. I mean, he certainly is professionally impressive. Personally, he can be somewhat impressive. Usually politically he’s probably the least impressive on that stage and yet, this morning, he was great.”

Finally, this week #YesWeCode got to pick the brains of the best in the business when they were selected out of 100 nonprofits to come to the Schwab Pro Bono Challenge in San Francisco and sit down the Charles Schwab’s CFO, two VPs, and a senior manager and discuss how to beginning thinking about the scholarships they will offer to 100,000 low-opportunity youth. The lightbulb moment for the #YesWeCode team was learning from the experts that when you go to a corporation to get money, fit yourself into their models--take advantage of H.R., because that’s where the money is, so instead of asking for donations, #YesWeCode should consider themselves a placement service thereby getting a fee for bringing in talent from an untraditional pipeline. It was a very practical conversation, which is exactly what the team was looking for.

Oh boy, next week we’ve got a lot more coming down the pike to tell you about...