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Sunburst Youth Academy offers youth a second chance

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — The mission of the Sunburst Youth Academy is simple — to intervene in the lives of 16- to 18-year-old youth who are at risk of not completing high school. 

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By Angela Nicole Parker

The mission of the Sunburst Youth Academy is simple — to intervene in the lives of 16- to 18-year-old youth who are at risk of not completing high school.

In order to do that, the program enhances life skills, education levels, employment potential and prospects for these youth, providing them the opportunity to obtain their high school diploma or return to high school.

More than an alternative high school, the academy’s signature Youth Challenge Program utilizes a military model that works to ensure that students understand they have the power within themselves to create the life they have always wanted.

“When these kids come to us, their lives have gotten a bit off track, but they know they can do better and they come here ready to do the work,” said Col. Denise Varner, program director. “They really dig deep while they are here and when they complete the program they feel such a deep sense of pride. For many, this is the first time they have ever completed anything, or the first time their mom has told them that they are proud of them. They really get to see what they are capable of. “

As part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, the Youth Challenge Academy is run by the California National Guard in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education. The program has a 5 1/2 month residential phase and a post-residential 12-month mentoring phase.

The one-on-one mentoring relationship provides young people with the support they need to help them continue the positive successes and direction achieved during the challenge phase. Admission is voluntary and tuition is free.

The program serves approximately 400 students per year. On average, participants advance four years in their English language skills and two years in their math skills.

While military service is not required upon completion, students who participate in the program must meet military grooming standards, wear military type uniforms, and observe standard military customs and courtesies.

“One of the things that makes our participants so successful, both during and after the program, is the structure we offer,” Col. Varner said. “We help them understand their potential and they just flourish.

“We have a very high success rate. There was this one kid who was hired by a music producer and is now making six figures, another who is a minor league baseball player and another who is a pro wrestler.

“There is one story that sticks out for me in particular,” Col. Varner added. “We had a female graduate come back and talk to our kids at one of our graduation ceremonies and she had just graduated from the police academy. She was the only female who did not wash out of the program and she credited Sunburst, and the resilience that she learned in the program, with being the thing that set her apart from the other female candidates.”

In order to reinforce this resilience, the program utilizes eight core components that incudes academic excellence, leadership and followership, life coping skills, job skills, service to the community, responsible citizenship, health and hygiene and physical fitness. The program also has an arts component that allows youth to choose from 15 different ways they can express themselves.

And that is just the beginning.

The academy is introducing its Jobs Challenge program that will allow participants to return for another 5 1/2 month residential stay and attend Cypress Community College to acquire a college certificate in an area that will help them become more employable.

It’s an added component that the program hopes will better position their students to reach self-sufficiency and succeed as productive citizens in society.

“What we do with our youth is really transformative,” Col. Varner said. “The beauty of this program is that people can see the changes in our students firsthand and how this program has improved their lives. We are always instilling in our students that if they can dream it, they can achieve it.”

For more information about Sunburst Youth Academy, visit www.sunburstyouthacademy.com or call (877) 463-1921.

This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers

Bay Area

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors. In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

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More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.
More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

This past weekend in the Inland Empire, a San Bernardino couple welcomed hundreds of African American high school graduates from the region for a joyous multi high school, Black-themed graduation celebration.

“Sometimes we have students doing magnificent things and nobody sees them,” said Keynasia Buffong, co-founder of Buffong Consultation Solutions, the company that organized the celebration honoring graduates from various high schools in the area.

Keynasia Buffong co-owns the firm with her husband Jonathan Buffong. The couple wants to expand the mass graduation event to all regions in the state.

“When you come into your community, we see you. We recognize you,” Kaynasia Buffong continued.

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors.

In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

Black Greek organizations attended the weekend-long event as well as the first Black valedictorian of Beaumont High School where African American students make up a little under 7% of the student population.

“We got a chance to give away $27,000 in scholarships,” said Keynasia.

Both Buffongs are educators and student advocates in California. They have been hosting the graduation event appreciating Black students for over 11 years.

But the Buffongs say celebrating success always comes with a reminder of the challenges Black students face.

According to the California Department of Education, at 72.5%, Black students had the lowest high school graduation rate among all other racial or ethnic groups at the end of the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Jonathan said one of their goals is to help graduates transition into the next stage of their academic life, whether that be a four-year university, community college, trade school, or employment.

“Sometimes they don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Keynasia. “There’s mentorship and sponsorship and we aim to have both.”

For the scholarship awards, the Buffongs are not just looking at grades but the full context of the graduates’ lives.

“Whether it’s COVID, deaths, family or health issues, disabilities, we’re looking for things to support them on so we can get them to the next level,” said Jonathan.

Outside of academic and career success, the Buffongs spoke about the importance of Black cultural exposure through education and traditional practices such as the Black national anthem and a libation ceremony.

The libation ceremony is performed by an elder in the community as a way to honor one’s ancestors. It is significant in various African cultures as well as other cultures around the globe.

The Buffongs say their next step is to look into more internship opportunities and figure out how to help curb the high numbers of Black high school graduates who leave the state to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Issues Statement on Biden High-Speed Internet Deal

“Here in the East Bay, access to high-speed internet is a matter of racial justice and equity,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13). “This became especially clear during the pandemic, when many Oakland kids were not able to participate in remote learning simply because they did not have internet access at home.

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) (Photo: Barbara Lee speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. / George Skidmore / Wikipedia Commons)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) (Photo: Barbara Lee speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. / George Skidmore / Wikipedia Commons)

By Alex Katz

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) issued the following statement on May 10 celebrating the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the Biden Administration’s effort to make high-speed internet cheaper, faster, and more widely available.

“Here in the East Bay, access to high-speed internet is a matter of racial justice and equity,” Lee said. “This became especially clear during the pandemic, when many Oakland kids were not able to participate in remote learning simply because they did not have internet access at home.

“The Oakland Unified School District connected 98% of its students to high-speed internet during the pandemic, giving out 36,000 laptops and 11,500 hotspots. That effort is commendable, and it needs to be repeated across our country. It is critical that we help close the economic and educational gap created by lack of affordable internet service. The ACP is a step in the right direction towards equitable internet access for all.”

On Monday, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced that they have secured private sector commitments that will lower high-speed internet costs for millions of families.

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Congress and the White House worked to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which allows tens of millions of American households to reduce their internet service costs by up to $30/month (or $75/month on Tribal lands).

To ensure the most efficient use of those public dollars and to deliver maximum cost savings to families, the Biden-Harris Administration has secured commitments from 20 leading internet providers — covering more than 80% of the U.S. population across urban, suburban, and rural areas — to either increase speeds or cut prices, making sure they all offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month.

From large providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon serving dozens of states, to smaller providers serving rural areas like Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee and Comporium in North Carolina, the commitments will allow tens of millions of ACP-eligible households to receive high-speed internet at no cost.

For details on how you can sign up for ACP and find participating internet providers in their area, go to: GetInternet.gov

Alex Katz works in Rep. Barbara Lee’s communications office.

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