Marlene Sanchez is the Associate Director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). Marlene 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 was the Executive Director of the Young Women's Freedom Center formally known as the Center for Young Women's Development for 10 years before coming to CURYJ. 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 training to organizations around the country who want to understand and best practices for working with system-involved youth and want to adopt a restorative practice for healing and transformation. She has six siblings and is a single mother of two wonderful boys Daniel and Elijah and a daughter Amaya. She enjoys going camping and creating spaces for healing as a priority.
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 plant-based 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 year-long 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.
Erin is a graduate of the University of California, Davis where she earned duel degrees in Film Studies, African and African American Studies. Prior to working in communications, Erin worked production
and created documentaries that examined a variety of social issues that relate to culture, ethnicity, and gender issues that affect people around the globe. A SoCal native, Erin has been residing in the Bay Area since 2016 and calls Oakland home. Before coming to CURYJ, Erin worked in corporate communications where she helped clients which included Dolby Laboratories, Target, and Deloitte to name a few strategize on media and messaging. She is looking forward to working in the nonprofit world and helping CURYJ develop and tell their story to a larger audience.
Director of Operations and Finance
Joan Benoît is the Finance and Human Resources Manager at Communities United for
Restorative Youth Justice. Joan is an enrolled
member of the Chippewa of the Thames, First Nation and has over 20 years of experience in non-profit administration including
13 years as an Executive Director of the Native American AIDS Project. As an advocate
working towards social change for marginalized communities, her work has been
focused primarily on economic justice and the elimination of health disparities on local,
regional and national levels.
She has developed and implemented health and social justice programs within Native
American communities, integrating traditional Native approaches with western
interventions to create effective and innovative programming to meet the needs of the
most at-risk populations in American Indian communities. In recognition of her work in
the Bay Area, Joan received The California Wellness Foundation’s 2010 Sabbatical
Program Award, and in 2013, received the Circle of Harmony Recognition Award, a
national award for outstanding contributions to Native American HIV Prevention and
Joan has lived in Oakland for over 25 years and is deeply rooted in Oakland’s culture
and communities. She and her partner are proud parents to their 3 year old son and is
Auntie to the children in her community. Joan’s work, vision, and impact are aimed at
creating and sustaining a community that is whole and cares for all of its members.
Daniel Mendoza serves as a DevLabs Fellow 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.
Jose Luis Pavon
H4J Program Coordinator
José Luis Pavón has been a community organizer for over twenty-five years. During that time he has worked on campaigns that focus on educational justice, police accountability,
immigrant rights, union organizing, economic justice, and opposing the mass incarceration of youth. Additionally, he has done extensive social service around youth empowerment, youth development, violence prevention, crisis intervention, non-profit management, and youth employment. He has experience as an educator teaching La Raza Studies, as well as doing academic support for high need students in English and Mathematics. José Luis is currently completing his senior year at San Francisco State University, where he will receive a B.A. in Economics with an emphasis on solutions to poverty, labor unions and Latin America. He is a proud father of three children, an artist, musician and a lifetime Aztec dancer in the Mexica tradition. Welcome to CURYJ and we are all excited to see you develop H4J.
Rosie Santiago is an East Oakland native with strong ties to her community. After many years of enduring poverty, childhood trauma,
discrimination, and almost a third of her life incarcerated, she then returned to her community after receiving a degree in Social & Behavioral Science from Feather River Community College. Through her role as a life coach at CURYJ, Rosie hopes to bring the passion she has for aiding and assisting young people from her community to overcome oppression and injustice. Like many of the CURYJ staff, Rosie’s upbringing in East Oakland gave her a firsthand understanding of the issues that many urban cities face, but also the resilience that youth possess in facing those challenges head-on. Prior to CURYJ, Rosie focused on young women who lost their children to the system, suffered from substance abuse, and mental health disorders. Although she loved being a support system for those women, she realized her calling was with youth. As Rosie puts it, “Our youth hold the key, they are our future leaders, without them, we won’t have a future.” Her beliefs in healing, higher education, transformation, and leadership building are the key components she emphasizes in creating change in the youth and our society. In addition to life coaching and organizing, Rosie facilitates the Women’s Warrior Circles where she engages young women to tap into themselves and discover the amazing potential they possess.
Miguel is the Regional Organizer and Advocate for Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. At 16 years-old, Miguel was tried and sentenced in adult court to a 45-year
double-life term under Proposition 21. During his 20 years of incarceration, Miguel transformed himself into a teacher, journalist, leader, organizer, and advocate for youth tried and sentenced as adults to life terms. One major accomplishment for him during his time in prison was when he noticed that Spanish speakers were being isolated from the English only educational programs offered within the California Department of Corrections. This deeply bothered Miguel, so he developed Spanish language curriculum and self-help programs in order to be more inclusive of everyone. This move allowed him to fight for testing to be administered in Spanish, which resulted in him becoming an in-class bilingual teacher. After this, Miguel then set out to train other Spanish speakers to become leaders and advocates for Spanish language services and programs within the prison. In 2012, Miguel became an organizer and advocate to end the policy of trying youth in adult courts and the sentencing of youth as adults for life terms. While in San Quentin State Prison, he helped organize the mailing of thousands of letters from those directly impacted to legislators. In addition, Miguel organized forums with fellow incarcerated peers, Human Rights Watch, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and legislators to help pass Senate Bill 9, 260, 261, and Assembly Bill 1276. It was through his own organizing and advocating for himself, that he worked with others sentenced in adult courts and incarcerated as juveniles for life terms to gain freedom.
Youth Justice Program Associate
Xochtil Larios is a 18-year-old full-time college student and 2018 recipient of the California Endowment 2018 Youth Award, as well as a Peer to Peer Fellow and Bay Rising Communications Fellow.
Xochtil is a community activist and youth leader born and raised in South Hayward. She has endured being a youth in the county’s juvenile system since she was 12 years old, which entails both foster care and juvenile detention centers. It was during her longest lock-up, 200+ days in the ACJJC, that she reached deep into her soldier’s heart of strength, resilience, and perseverance to eagerly grab any of the tools available to triumph. During that time she was acquainted with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice and quickly plugged herself in. Since then she has traveled coast to coast working as a youth researcher and thought leader on alternatives and diversions from incarceration.
Digital Design Associate
Through CURYJ Juan has excelled as a youth organizing intern and now most recently a tech fellowship he was awarded through CURYJ with Devlabs Ventures. He is a Bay Area native born in San Francisco and relocating to Oakland at the age of four.
T Growing up in Oakland he has had multiple encounters with police and at a young age was placed in community based programs to help keep him out of trouble, through these programs he found a passion for helping others who needed it. Some of the programs that have inspired him the most have been through Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). Juan first became involved with CURYJ as a participant in the second summer Homies for Justice (H4J) cohort, a program designed to help formerly incarcerated and systems impacted youth. During his time in the program he learned and developed skills in policy, such as lobbying and bill implementations. Additionally, he learned how to organize, event management, and above all different types of cultural healing. Juan now 18 years old is on the right track and hopes to keep pursuing his passions in college and helping his community thrive.