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Yesterday afternoon 55 young men and women celebrated their year of service as a California Justice Leader AmeriCorps Member — our largest graduating class ever. They joined an active alumni network that now numbers 165 graduates. As part of celebrating this year’s class, we’re pleased to share a photo essay that features Ashaki Scott, one of this year’s graduates, three other recent graduates, and an Introduction by AmeriCorps State and National Director Sonali Nijhawan.

Graduations and year-ends are a natural time for reflection. In March 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic was upending daily life, we were on the verge of launching this first-of-a-kind AmeriCorps program. I’ll be honest; we worried about meeting our commitments to the system-impacted individuals we enlisted as Justice Leaders and to the system-impacted youth they would serve.

Today, I’m in awe of how our members, year after year, draw on their own life experience and on professional skills they gain through the program to compassionately and wisely coach young people who are facing many of the same challenges they once did, and how the members themselves grow tremendously as a result of the experience.

View the CJL photo essay

Because of their impact and success, the program itself has grown, enrolling nearly twice as many members annually as we did that first year, and now serving 10 counties across California in partnership with 30 community-based organizations that value the support our members provide. Individually and collectively, our members prove that prior contact with the criminal legal system can be transformed from a liability into an asset that benefits others and helps open doors to professional advancement for members.

More broadly, California Justice Leaders AmeriCorps shows what is possible when we stretch ourselves and our organizations beyond the familiar to try something new. In this case, Impact Justice and AmeriCorps have created a model that works, one that highlights the importance of credible messengers and is poised to be taken up around the country.

Thank you to all of our partners, and to everyone who has nurtured and supported California Justice Leaders AmeriCorps over the years. Special thanks to award-winning documentary photographer Barbara Kinney and the Emerson Collective for making the photo essay possible. And congratulations to the 2023 CJL graduates!

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