Turning Passion into Action: How an Advocacy Program Lit Azariah’s Flame
This spring, Azariah performed a prestigious rite of passage: he spoke at the graduation ceremony for a program he’d been a part of called the Advocacy Leadership Committee (ALC).
What makes it even more special is that he’d just recently been released from incarceration.
“Here I am less than four months out of prison, and I’m rubbing elbows and having conversations with state senators and legislators. That’s the power ALC has,” Azariah said in his graduation speech.
“PAC (now known as ALC) showed me first and foremost how powerful my voice is,” he continued. “There’s nothing greater than that.”
ALC is a program run by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) that gives former participants the opportunity to participate in the organization’s policy and advocacy work.
Azariah first learned about CEO from individuals at his transitional living home just a week after he left prison. He became a participant with the Sacramento office and had a great experience. “I loved it,” he says. “I really connected with the people at CEO. It was extremely helpful.”
Then he learned about their ALC program. At first, he was told he couldn’t join this year’s cohort because all the spots were full. Then one opened up, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“Before I got involved with CEO, I didn’t care about politics or legislation,” Azariah said. “My passion is ministry. But then I saw the advocacy work CEO was doing, and I had to get involved.”
“It lit a fire under me,” he added. “CEO really gave me a platform.”
Azariah says that he’s typically an introvert, but the ALC program inspired his new passion and confidence.
“The experience from ALC that sticks out more than anything is us marching to the state capitol. I will always carry that with me,” Azariah said. There, he had the opportunity to go to senators' offices to talk with them about issues that affect him and other people with experiences like his.
“When I got the chance to talk to Senators like Becker and Wahab, and I got to sit in their office, I couldn’t help but think that it was just two months ago I was in a cell serving a life term,” Azariah said. “Now I’m having conversations with them, advocating for my brothers – there is nothing like that.”
Azariah says after his release, he knew he would do what he could to support his friends who were still incarcerated by sending them care packages and talking to them on the phone. But what he didn’t realize was that he could actually work to make their lives better altogether through advocacy.
“This opened up a whole new world for me,” he said. “They showed me there was so much more I could do. I could elicit change.”
Outside of his advocacy, Azariah is working for Apple, troubleshooting how to fix devices like iPhones, iPads, and iWatches – skills he learned while in prison. He hopes to save money to move out of transitional housing into a place of his own soon. Though he’s graduated from ALC, he is still connected with CEO Sacramento and loves to check in with everyone there. He’s also involved with The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, where he’s continuing to learn about issues related to criminal justice and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Reflecting back on his experience, Azariah wants to encourage anyone coming out of prison to get involved with CEO.
“CEO is a truly phenomenal program,” Azariah said. “The people at CEO really invest in you. They will go to bat for you. It’s unlike any other program I’ve been a part of.”