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A student in the Pelican Bay Scholars Program. Photo credit: Tory Eagles

Even in the midst of a historic pandemic, current events remind us that problems plaguing the U.S. criminal justice system can have devastating and long-lasting adverse effects on communities of color. Recognizing that supporting formerly incarcerated or system-impacted individuals can lead to a better quality of life for those who have come in contact with the criminal justice system, their families, and our communities, we at Michelson 20MM have made Smart Justice a priority. As such, we are proud to award the Campaign for College Opportunity (the Campaign) a Michelson Spark Grant to aid in their efforts to increase educational opportunities for current and formerly incarcerated Californians.

The story of the Campaign begins in the aftermath of the Dot-com crash and the ensuing financial crisis that hit state coffers. In 2002, leaders in Sacramento proposed budget cuts to higher education and an increase in fees at the state’s public colleges. Retired educators and lifelong student advocates Steve Weiner and David Wolf saw these changes as barriers that would prevent students all across California, and students of color in particular, from achieving a college degree that leads to economic self-sufficiency and upward mobility. As Baby Boomers who received a free education at the University of California, the two sought to ensure that future generations would have affordable access to a college education and in 2003 they formed an alliance of prominent organizations including the California Business Roundtable, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Community College League of California to serve as the founding Board of Directors of the Campaign for College Opportunity. 

Then and now, the Campaign for College Opportunity has recognized the power of broad-based, diverse statewide leadership, powerfully united around the need to increase college access and success for students, especially students of color and low-income, first-generation students. Now, with the support of a Michelson Spark Grant, the nonprofit is launching a new initiative at the intersection of education and the criminal justice system. This summer, the Campaign will be examining the unique barriers current and formerly incarcerated students face in all three of California’s college systems. The findings will inform the public and our policymakers about the challenges that exist, and also explore solutions to overcome them through public policy.

As part of its forthcoming report, the Campaign will collect crucial demographic data on current and formerly incarcerated students, including a landscape analysis that examines how the state supports justice-involved students through current legislative policies and funding. Plans also include creating a directory of existing programs and support services at California’s public college and university campuses. 

“With caring support, formerly incarcerated individuals can transform their lives to become exemplary community members and leaders,” says Gary K. Michelson, M.D., Founder of Michelson 20MM. “We’re proud to partner with the Campaign to help our justice -impacted community access education and career pathways so that the next chapter in their lives is one that will inspire us all.” 

The Campaign for College Opportunity joins Spark Grant recipients 2nd Call, RAND Corporation, Vera Institute of Justice, Root and Rebound, and Impact Justice in the portfolio of organizations 20MM has partnered with to advance efforts in smart justice. These changemakers are helping give system-impacted individuals a fresh start and second chance.

The Michelson 20MM Foundation and its initiatives are made possible by the generous support of Gary K. Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson. We will be holding a future funding round focused on our Smart Justice initiative in July. To learn more please visit our webpage or sign up for notifications using the form below.