From participant to advocate, RayVon is advancing criminal legal system reforms

Dec 02, 2022   |  By Alex Mitchell and Emily Montgomery

RayVon is dedicated to working as a champion for the rights of people impacted by the criminal legal system .

“My goal is to have my voice heard and my advocacy recognized,” he says.

RayVon serves as a facilitator for the Participant Advocacy Council (PAC), a program by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) which provides advocacy training for select participants. They learn leadership, community organizing, and storytelling skills, and support passing progressive criminal justice legislation.

RayVon first joined PAC as a participant. He says that he used to be very private about his life but began opening up more after being a part of the committee. “The facilitators created a safe space to do that.”

Now, as a facilitator himself, he gets to play that role for others. He’s led two programs so far: one in Detroit and one in New York.

He’s also had the opportunity to meet with local politicians including Michigan State Representative Kevin Hertel. He spoke with them about many of the issues facing returning citizens, and he’s hopeful to continue making connections that work toward creating change.

RayVon began his journey toward becoming an advocate while incarcerated. He decided to use his time in prison to recreate himself, and he sought out programs to help him build on the person he wanted to become while being able to help others do the same.

“I completed every therapeutic program offered,” he says. “I even taught most of the programs to help others find their way.”

RayVon also earned his paralegal certificate while incarcerated. “I believe that is one of my biggest accomplishments,” he says. “It means a lot to me.”

When he returned home after thirty years in prison, RayVon kept his forward momentum.

“I was lucky to have a good support system coming home, so I took full advantage,” he says. “I began looking for work immediately.” After thoroughly searching for the right fit, RayVon learned about CEO this past January.

“I went to them immediately,” he says. He was unsure at first if CEO would be the right organization for him but says his site director, Quincy Norman, quickly allayed his fears. He adds that joining CEO was a decision that would change his life and reaffirm his purpose.

In July, RayVon was selected to be part of CEO’s Emerging Leaders Program, which provided him with additional employment training. Through that program, he completed Michigan University’s Community Organizing for Social Justice course.

“That was one of the great highlights on top of everything I learned in the Emerging Leaders Program,” he says.“It’s a program I am blessed to have been a part of.”

RayVon isn’t finished learning, though. He recently enrolled at Wayne County Community College District to keep building his skills and knowledge and will begin school in January–exactly a year after he started at CEO.

“I truly believe in personal development, and personal development leads to professional development,” RayVon said. “I’m looking forward to school, so I can advocate better for the people, so to speak.