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This fall, we are excited to celebrate with CJ, an active Youth Leader at FFLIC and member of Black Man Rising, as he heads to college. “I am excited,” CJ says about starting at Grambling State this semester. “I love to learn new things.” 

CJ is an enthusiastic learner, interested in everything from videography to history, but his path to finishing school and continuing his education was not easy or certain. CJ says his school had “a lack of everything – lack of resources, lack of sports program.” Although CJ was getting bullied, the school didn’t even have counselors who would talk to him. Instead, he would get in trouble for running in the halls or playing, which he says, “just made me not like the school anymore.” 

With a lack of support and resources at his school, sadly CJ eventually went into the youth incarceration system. He saw firsthand the effects incarceration can have on youth. “It just messes with your mental state, you know? You can’t stand somebody not understanding you as a person or treating you as a person,” he says. CJ was one of the lucky few who returned to school, as more than two-thirds of youth drop out once they are released. And he knows first hand that it’s harder for youth to get their life back on track, even if they are released. “It’s worse for a child,” he says. “When they come back they have no friends or no money or nothing. So you know they’re gonna go back in that crime scene or back in the environment and it’s just gonna make things worse.”

Things changed for CJ when his friend took him to a Black Man Rising meeting, even though  he was skeptical at first. Black Man Rising provides outreach, mentorship, and resources to young men of color. They started as a project of FFLIC and now act as a partner organization.

 “I was never introduced to that type of life,” he says. “All I knew was just running around with my friends in the streets.” But soon he found what he calls “a brotherhood” and “a safe place I could talk, I could come to,” that helped put him on a different path. “To be honest I don’t even think I’d be here today if I took the wrong route,” he says. “That’s a dark thing to say but that’s the truth.”

Through the support of FFLIC and Black Man Rising, CJ found joy in discovering his own potential. He started playing sports, gaining confidence, and learning outside of school too. He participated in organizing and started learning more about the criminal legal system. FFLIC taught him about his rights, and the work he did in the community he says, “built me up to my own leadership.” 

It’s easier for CJ to see a future now, one where he can have a greater impact to create a world without the youth prisons that rob kids like him of their full potential. “Kids always deserve a second opportunity,” he says. “Because they are kids, they are going to make mistakes no matter what.” CJ plans to play baseball and major in history and criminal justice and minor in African studies at college, which he says is a “new beginning.”