In a show of support for Merritt’s Street Scholars Peer Mentor Program, nearly 50 community partners, including co-sponsor Root & Rebound, joined in the largest ever, “Empowerment Summit” on April 19 and 20, attended by a crowd of faculty, staff, students, and community members. “We are all working toward more collaboration to provide services for the formerly incarcerated and their families,” says Ron Moss, Executive Director of the Gamble Institute, the umbrella organization over the Street Scholars. “The motivation was to bring all the community resources together, including the opportunity to get legal rights counseling.”
With an increasing population of formerly incarcerated students at Merritt, Street Scholars was born in 2014 to peer mentoring and training programs focusing on academic success as a way to head toward a bright future. Ron says that much of the guidance in creating the program came from Dr. Bill Love, instructor of Merritt’s COSER program, who Ron calls his “mentor, brain trust, and voice of wisdom.”
The most important thing, Ron says, of the current 63 active scholars and/or family members, is starting with a clean slate. “The formerly incarcerated have had their problems,” says Moss. “You did something wrong, you served your time, now you are starting over. We are changing the narrative and not focusing on negative behaviors but on the potential of life-changing trajectory of post-secondary education.”
Crucial to the program is Earthy Young, Assistant Director, who is the head peer mentor and who,” Ron says, “has the unique knack of communicating with our scholars.” And he calls Program Coordinator La Juana Prince-Vaughn “the mentor of all things Merritt College.” “It’s a small staff, he says, “but we are all building a community and safe space that is built on authenticity and trust.”
That was evident at the Empowerment conference with panel discussions like “Know Your Rights: Reducing Barriers to Employment” and “Accessing Higher Education” (shown above) and influential speakers like Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf who brought the City’s support along with her.
“We not only invest in providing opportunities to this population, but our Street Outreach Team has recently helped get them more than 50 non-profit jobs. Currently we are working on finding a solution to the challenge of affordable housing. The City of Oakland is very passionate about these issues.”