By Mike Sicilia, Deputy Press Secretary
Division of Juvenile Justice
Eleven high performing youth from the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) in Camarillo spent a day with the Los Angeles Lakers at their practice facility in El Segundo Dec. 23. They were mentored by former Lakers players and shared their stories of hope and redemption with actor Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Just Mercy).
The youth participated in sharing circle style roundtable discussions led by Hollywood producer Scott Budnick, a founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and actor Michael B. Jordan, who is currently starring in a new movie called Just Mercy, based on the best-selling book of the same name, which chronicles the efforts of an attorney to free an unjustly accused man facing the death penalty on murder charges. Said Budnick, “the day was a reminder that people cared about them. They felt heard, loved and had a sense of hope and inspiration for their futures.”
It was an extraordinary experience for the youth, who were greeted warmly by Jordan who presented them with personalized basketball jerseys, new athletic shoes and backpacks before meeting with former Laker players Robert Horry and Metta World Peace. The pair coached the youth in an intramural game played adjacent to where the Lakers were practicing while preparing for their nationally televised Christmas Day matchup against the crosstown rival Clippers.
When superstar Lebron James took the court, it was just too much for the youth, who stopped the game and momentarily mobbed the Lakers with friendly high fives and an impromptu photo opportunity.
“The kids were beaming ear to ear,” said VYCF Acting Superintendent Kenneth Fewer.
“I got the opportunity to meet with people I look up to and admire,” said youth Kenzo Sohue. “I got to network with people I never thought I would ever get the chance to meet in my life. I still can’t believe it.”
The theme of the day was sharing stories and encouraging youth to believe in themselves to imagine a greater future after their reentry to the community. The youth shared their stories and heard from formerly incarcerated youth and adults who are doing well in the community, as well as people like actor Jordan and bi-lingual hip hop artist Daniel “D Smoke” Farris, a UCLA graduate and former school music teacher who won the Netflix “Rhythm & Flow” contest.
Former Lakers/Sacramento Kings forward Metta World Peace, stressed education as a key to success, and advised the youth to “read, read, read.”
Following a catered Mexican lunch, the youth returned to VYCF in a caravan, full of memories to last and the caring to fuel them to the next level. Thanks are due to the Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation, ARC, Represent Justice and the VYCF staff who escorted the youth.