10-time GRAMMY Award winning singer and activist Chaka Khan and top Los Angeles community and business leaders announced today the Los Angeles kick-off of the No Excuses National Initiative, a pilot program that aims to keep juvenile offenders from returning to jail.
"In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release," said Ms. Khan at a press conference this morning at the GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles. "These kids need our help."
The aim of No Excuses is to enlist local business leaders to mentor young offenders upon their release from juvenile detention. So far such wide-ranging businesses as Robnett Electric, Pacific Beauty College of Los Angeles and R.E.S.C.U.E. have stepped up to offer mentorship opportunities. Other prestigious companies like Apple One have expressed interest in participating. Businesses and juvenile offenders alike are encouraged to sign up for the No Excuses program at www.chakakhanfoundation.org/noexcuses.
"I challenge business leaders all over the country to step up and help these children," continued Ms. Khan. "More important than your money, these kids need your time and expertise to help them make a successful transition to a better life."
One of the beneficiaries of an intense mentor relationship is former Sylmar Juvenile Hall inmate Prophet Walker who shared his experiences with the gathered crowd. His journey out of a life behind bars began after attending InsideOUT Writers, an educational program for incarcerated young men and women that strives to reduce recidivism through workshops that discourage violence and promote pro-social means of self expression. His teacher in the writing classes was top Hollywood producer Scott Budnick who took the young Mr. Walker under his wing. Prophet is now a senior in civil engineering at Loyola Marymount University and a fulltime project engineer at Nautilus Group Inc., a real estate investment, development and design-build construction services firm.
"I wouldn't have made it where I am today without the support of mentors along the way, including my godfather Richard Jones, Scott, InsideOUT Writers and so many others," said Mr. Walker. "What Chaka is doing with No Excuses will provide a very important avenue towards success for kids who need a little extra help, just like I did."
In fact, InsideOUT Writers, which was founded in 1996 to provide creative writing classes to youth incarcerated in L.A. County detention facilities, will administer the No Excuses program in partnership with the Chaka Khan Foundation. InsideOUT Writers Executive Director, Wendy Killian shared her thoughts on the new initiative at the press conference.
Other speakers at the press conference included Chaka Khan Foundation President Veronica Coffield and community leader Avis Ridley-Thomas. Business leader Bill Thomas, who is Vice President of Operations at Robnett Electric, announced that his company has agreed to mentor 100 young men and women in the greater Los Angeles area.
Over the last two weeks, Ms. Khan, joined by business and community leaders, as well as friends from the entertainment industry, visited four local detention centers in the Los Angeles area - Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas and Camp Scudder in Santa Clarita. During a four hour presentation and dialogue session, following the Days of Dialogue format created by Avis Ridley-Thomas, young men and women were encouraged to open up about their situations and what led them to their incarceration. At one particular visit when asked what was most important in helping them to make good choices in the future, kids overwhelmingly said that good mentors and role models were most important to their future success.
And now as the No Excuses National Initiative rolls out in an L.A. County pilot program, young people throughout the area will have the opportunity to connect with business people in their communities to learn the very basic skills they will need to land a job and be successful in society and avoid returning to jails and institutions.
Funding for No Excuses is provided by Wells Fargo (Gold Sponsor), The California Endowment, Carol Biondi and The GRAMMY Museum. For more information, please visit www.chakakhanfoundation.org/noexcuses.