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Mid-City CAN Blog

In My Own Words: Visiting the State Capitol

From August 21 to August 25, about 20 youth and 4 mentors from City Heights attended the Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol Advocacy Days up in Sacramento, California. The annual trip is a part of Building Healthy Communities, a 10-year, $1 million initiative to change the way that health happens in California. Mid-City CAN Youth Council members were vocal advocates for gender and racial-justice issues.  This year’s theme was “Free Our Dreams.” Jose Ortega, a 17-year-old student from San Diego High School, was one of the youth on the trip. This is his experience on his first interaction with California’s political system.


By Jose Ortega


“I just recently went to Sacramento, California with Mid-City Community Advocacy Network. In a wrap, the trip was an amazing experience to both learn and grow as a person.


I decided to go on the trip because personally, it sounded like fun to leave San Diego for a weekend, and I also wanted get to know people and possibly get to know politically influential people here for California.

Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol Advocacy Days in Sacramento, California.
Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol Advocacy Days in Sacramento, California.


The trip up there was in itself and experience. It lasted 14 hours, so we got to Sacramento at 3am and we had to get up at 6 in the morning. The hardest part of the trip was actually staying awake the first day we were there, but other than that everything else came pretty naturally.


The best part of the trip was…well, the entire experience! Getting to know more and more people was amazing. Everybody there wanted change. All the communities that appeared there at the Capital building wanted something to change to benefit their communities… without thinking of the bigger picture of how their choices could affect all of California. We all learned about the large implications that small choices can have, even down here in City Heights, and it really inspired us to speak up about issues facing our neighborhood.


On this trip I learned that it takes a lot more people to pass bills than I had ever imagined. I also learned that there are two different types of bills, Senate and Assembly Bills. While I was in Sacramento I visited three legislators and had the opportunity to speak with their staffs. I spoke with the offices of Assembly Member Atkins, Pro temp De Leon, and Governor Jerry Brown. It was a wonderful learning experience.”

Restorative Justice 100% Successful in City Heights

Debbie Newkirk was riding the trolley when her life changed forever. A 17-year-old snatched her purse, but instead of seeking a punishment, Newkirk sought a new form of justice: restorative justice.

“I decided he’s a young kid, he needs help,” said Newkirk. “And if you can approach him through this and it changes him, go for it.”

Debbie Newkirk tells her story to reporters

City Heights residents and organizations recently gained countywide recognition for advancing the local juvenile justice system. Mid-City CAN’s Peace Promotion Momentum Team formed a restorative justice youth pilot program, partnering with the National Conflict Resolution Center, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the County Probation and Public Defender’s Offices. On August 20, these partners gathered at the District Attorney’s office to announce the success of the program.

“Holding youth offenders accountable doesn’t always mean prosecuting them in juvenile court and putting them in juvenile hall,” said Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney. “We need more programs like this that provide second chances, opportunities for young offenders and alternative forms of justice.”

The City Heights Restorative Community Conference Pilot Project offers both the youth offender and the person their crime harmed the chance to make things right within the context of community. Rather than go into the juvenile system, they may voluntarily meet face-to-face and work out customized plans of action, which are designed to repair the harm done to victims, families and the community.

Diana Ross, Executive Director of Mid-City CAN

“Given the number of juveniles in City Heights engaged in the juvenile justice system, we stand to make a tremendous and meaningful impact on keeping kids out of jail countywide while healing those who have been harmed through restoration and accountability,” said Diana Ross, Executive Director of Mid-City CAN.

Youth offenses that qualify for the program include felonies, high-level misdemeanors and probation violations, which have been committed their offense or live in specified Mid-City zip codes.

“We have witnessed the program’s exponential impacts and have seen the ripple effects of the restorative process on the youth, their families and the community at large,” said Steven Jellá, Associate Executive Director of San Diego Youth Services.

In January 2014, the Peace Promotion Momentum Team selected the National Conflict Resolution Center to provide the Restorative Community Conferencing services in an effort to demonstrate an effective alternative to incarceration. Since then, the 24 out of 24 cases that have been all the way through the program have reached an agreement on an action plan for the youth to complete.

Bonnie Dumanis, D.A.

“The 100% agreement rate, 100% satisfaction rate, and 95% compliance rate are evidence of what we all intuitively already know; that dialogue and joint problem solving are more effective means than one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Steven P. Dinkin, President of the National Conflict Resolution Center. “With RCC, community relationships are strengthened, trust and respect grow, and everyone is safer in their homes and neighborhoods.”

That is the exact outcome that Debbie Newkirk experienced after choosing RCC when her purse was stolen. At first hesitant to meet with the youth offender, she ended up loving the process. Newkirk says she was empowered by being able to address him directly and hear his side of the story.


“That was it. We ended up hugging.”

Debbie Newkirk tells her story to reporters

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