Marlene Sanchez was born and raised in the Mission district of San Francisco by her single mother. Marlene came to community work at age 15 looking for employment and a way out of the juvenile justice system. She was hired as a community health outreach worker, providing HIV/STD education and harm reduction supplies and love to hundreds of young women who lived and worked in the underground street economies of San Francisco. Marlene has a passion for working with youth and in particular young women and girls who are involved in the juvenile justice system because of her personal experiences. In 1999, she was sworn in by the Superior Court of San Francisco as the first “youth” appointed to the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Commission, where she served for five years. For six years she co-chaired of the Community Justice Network for Youth, a national organization of community-based programs that serve youth of color in the juvenile justice system. Marlene is a founding member of All of Us or None; a movement to restore the rights and fight against the discrimination of formally incarcerated people and young women. The Dali Lama as an Unsung Hero and celebrated at the National Centerforce Conference has recognized Marlene where she received the Harold Atkins award for ending cycles of incarceration. Marlene provides trainings to organizations around the country who want to understand and best practices for working with system involved youth and want to adopt a restorative practices for healing and transformation. She has six siblings and is a mother of two wonderful boys Daniel and Elijah and a daughter Amaya. She enjoys going camping and creating spaces for healing as a priority.
CURYJ Community Organizer, is strongly dedicated to lifting up the voices of youth with untapped potential in his community. Born and raised in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, Ruben has direct lived experience with being labeled as an “at-risk” youth seeking positive outlets and alternatives to street life.
Ruben has been featured in local radio and newsprint, testified to the CA State Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence, and has served on the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color Youth Policy Task Force. Ruben started his work with CURYJ as a community outreach specialist, coordinating four mural block parties and organizing the clean-up of an abandoned site now harvesting its first community garden haul. The summer of 2012, Ruben completed a 10-week intensive training for Outdoor Educators. A Dewey Academy graduate (an Oakland Unified School District Continuation School), Ruben helped to lead a school-based youth leadership and action research project with Dewey students to develop community solutions to address public safety in Oakland that empower youth in the Spring of 2013. The project at Dewey Academy has now evolved into a year-long after-school program that he co-coordinates.
Ruben is dedicated to organizing and advocating for social change that will benefit generations to come.
Community Organizer & Life Coach
CURYJ Community Organizer, is a fifth generation Oaklander who is very passionate about creating a better Oakland for young people by developing programs that help them realize their potential for leadership. As a defendant in the Fruitvale gang injunction, he became an outspoken leader in the Stop the Injunctions Coalition and has continued to advocate against policies that criminalize youth of color. Mike has spoken to local radio outlets, media, and testified at the state capitol before the State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, and served on the Youth Policy Task Force for the Alliance of Boys and Men of Color. He was also a panelist a the Beyond the Bench conference where he directly shared his experiences with Judges, Prosecutors and others in Law Enforcement to give them an opportunity to learn what the impact of certain judicial practices have had on the health and success of boys and men of color.
As a community organizer for CURYJ, Mike helped to organize mural block parties and a community garden project in Oakland’s Fruitvale District where he has lived his entire life. Mike also conceptualized and initiated the Aztlan Beautification Movement, which involves youth in creating murals of Oakland community history and culture. As a member of Oakland’s Native American community, Mike helped lead a Native Boys and Men leadership and action research project in the spring of 2013 based out of the Intertribal Friendship House, the oldest urban American Indian community center in the country, to engage Native youth in envisioning solutions for a better Oakland where youth can thrive.
Currently, Mike is co-coordinating an after-school program for CURYJ at Dewey Academy, organizing more mural projects, and advocating locally and statewide for policy and systems changes that improve outcomes for his community.
Director of Operations
Rana Halpern is the CURYJ Operations Manager. Rana brings over 15 years of experience in non-profit management and community development to the team. She is motivated by a lifelong passion for empowering marginalized communities and encouraging health and well-being in her community. She understands what it takes to launch, manage and sustain a successful non-profit organization and has been instrumental in the growth and success of numerous non-profits and small business. Rana has a long history in various social justice movements in the Bay Area and internationally.
Organizing and Policy Campaign Manager
Mar Velez is a Chicana feminist activist researcher and professional. She has worked for racial, education, economic and labor justice movement campaigns for over ten years. During her tenure at the University of California, San Diego, Mar led student movement and labor justice campaigns for students and workers that intersected race, gender and class. She established and funded outreach programs for youth in the San Diego community as Co-Coordinator at the Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service. Through her dual Masters Program in Public Health and City Planning at the University of California Berkeley, Mar completed a community based participatory research project using the PhotoVoice method with Oakland youth. The research led to broader movement building strategies for CURYJ and innovative ways to center youth’s voice in policy. Mar connects rights to a healthy city to racial and economic justice for vulnerable populations. Her movement building expertise and commitment to community based participatory research and policy bring her to Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice as the Organizing and Policy Campaign Manager at CURYJ.
Community Organizer & Life Coach
John Jones III was born, raised, and lives in East Oakland and is also a father of three. He is currently a Life Coach at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. In this capacity, John serves as a mentor to at-risk youth and adults between the ages of 18 -35. Being formerly incarcerated, John believes in giving back to his community, which he does as a motivational speaker, organizer and staunch advocate in the areas of public safety (Measure Z), economic dignity (Measure FF, Revive Oakland), criminal justice reform (AB 109;, Prop 47, Prop 57), education (Measure N) and also serves as a member of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) Executive Steering Committee for Prop 47. John was recognized by the East Bay Express as a Dynamo For Justice in their 2016 People Issue- Best of the East Bay. John also was recognized by CA 18th District Assembly Member Rob Bonta as the recipient of the 2016 Equity Champion award for his “work to empower underrepresented communities in the fight for social and economic justice.
Director of Development & Social Innovation
Tamaya is the Director of Development & Social Innovation at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. She has an extensive background in nonprofit management, policy advocacy and fundraising. She is a graduate of the Women’s Policy Institute of California and worked on legislation to end the shackling of pregnant women in lock up facilities. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology from San Francisco State University and Masters of Public Administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch, City University of New York. She spent six years as the Director of Development at The Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco. In 2012, she left CYWD to pursue her graduate degree through the National Urban Fellows program in New York. Through her graduate studies, she completed a year long mentorship at The Miami Foundation under CEO, Javier Soto where she managed the Miami Fellows Leadership Program, the Ashoka and Miami Foundation collaboration and served on the Community Grants board. She returned to the Bay Area in 2013 and has been working with local and national organizations as a fund development and communications consultant. She is a a proud Bay Area native, plant based foodie and is the mother of two young artists.
Program & Community Events Manager
Alejandra Mojica was raised in the Mission district community of San Francisco inspired by cultural artists, activists, and community leaders who deeply shaped her identity and consciousness as a Xicana.
Alejandra holds over 15 years of experience in youth development and community organizing. She has worked for multiple non-profit organizations across SF and around the Bay Area developing programs focused on building critical consciousness, creative expression, youth empowerment, critical thinking, social justice, health education, and leadership development.
Alejandra earned her B.A. in Communication Studies with a minor in Chicana/Latina Studies from the University of San Francisco. Her skill set spans from youth program development, community events management, staff development training, professional facilitation, community organizing, and communications.
Alejandra has now rerooted herself as a resident of East Oakland. She is grateful to serve as the Program & Community Events Manager at CURYJ where she can continue social justice advocacy and community building within the Bay Area. She is passionately committed to creating more pathways of self-sustainability for the empowerment of her community.
Daniel Mendoza serves as the Youth and Community Organizer at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). He first became involved with CURYJ as a participant in the Warrior’s Circle, a positive manhood development program based at Dewey Academy in Oakland, CA. Through his participation in the CURYJ Warrior’s Circle he was recruited as a core group of youth leaders for a community based participatory research project led by CURYJ which culminated in the foto-novella report Forgotten Voices: Youth Solutions for Oakland. Daniel was charged and convicted with a felony strike two weeks after his 18th Birthday and was incarcerated for approximately two years. Since his release he has continued to work with CURYJ as a staff member helping to manage CURYJ’s social enterprise, La Cultura Cultural Arts Café and as part of the program team for Homies 4 Justice, a paid internship for systems impacted youth. Daniel was recently the recipient of the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty award from the Marguerite Casey Foundation.
Indigo Mateo is the Communications Manager at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. An organizer at heart, Indigo brings fierce writing and storytelling to her role at CURYJ with the intention of shifting narratives towards liberating young futures. Indigo first stepped into the CURYJ community as a performing artist, bringing spirit as a vocalist, poet and MC.
A trained communications strategist, filmmaker and facilitator, she has been involved in winning campaigns in the Bay Area as well as successful advocacy on behalf of incarcerated people and families. Indigo hails from New Jersey where she earned her B.A in Journalism and Media Studies and Social Movement Studies at Rutgers University. In the Bay Area she has supported momentum around struggles of incarceration, human trafficking and women’s and girl’s empowerment through strategic communications, organizing and art.
Savannah is the Office Manager at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. Savannah is proudly adopted and was raised in the Fruitvale district in Oakland. She took courses in International Relations and the African Diaspora, and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. After the birth of her son in 2011 and the completion of her Bachelor’s Degree in 2012, Savannah returned to Oakland to work with a local non-profit organization as the Development Associate and later grew into the role of Workforce Manager. Savannah did workforce recruitment at Santa Rita Jail, advocated for program participants and worked with local businesses to create employment opportunities for parolees and formerly incarcerated individuals. Savannah also has extensive Human Resources experience both in the non profit and corporate sectors. She is deeply committed to movement building and social justice in Oakland and across the world.
Youth Justice Fellow