Youth Justice Summit Recap

“Don’t throw them away because the system already threw them away.” This quote from Keynote Speaker, Mysonne “The General”, resonated with the mission of our Youth Justice Summit.

On Wednesday, May 22nd, Our Piece of the Pie hosted a Youth Justice Summit, bringing together community leaders, mentors, young people and OPP staff to take a deep dive into justice reform by highlighting the true injustices of the justice system and how these injustices impact youth of color. The Summit took place at Capitol Community College and showcased five different speakers and a panel of young people to share their personal experiences with the justice system. Special thank you to The Tow Foundation and FHI60 for helping us make this event possible!

Our keynote speaker was Mysonne “The General”, a rapper and youth justice advocate. Mysonne spoke about how the justice system is broken and targeting young people, especially young people of color, something he knows a lot about after being misidentified in a line-up and spending seven years of his life wrongfully behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Mysonne urged not only young people, but the adults in their lives, to begin to make a change. Reflecting on the experiences of past generations, Mysonne exclaimed, “As a man, if you allow your children to go through the same things you went through, you are not a man. I am a cheat sheet for your life, look at what I do, and learn from the mistakes I made.” He also emphasized how important programs like OPP are, and how as a community, we need to take steps to help better justice involved youth.

Dr. Maysa Akbar gave a presentation on the effect of Urban Trauma on life. Living in urban environments have many effects on the progress and the priorities of young people. Dr. Akbar’s presentation was focused on empowering young people to help break through barriers that might be seen as too difficult at first. Urban youth often feel an increase in self-doubt, fear of failure, and lack of support, this leads to a strong decrease in employment and wealth. Perseverance was a big message in Dr. Akbar’s presentation. Being a young person involved in special education until grade six, Dr. Akbar did not have a lot of adults who supported her and pushed her to her full potential. Dr. Akbar realized her own potential which has led her to becoming a professor at Yale. One of the more impactful pieces of her presentation was focused on people of color being seen and believing in themselves. “Don’t ever let somebody tell you that you’re not seen. Don’t let anyone tell you didn’t come from a line of Kings or Queens.” The sense of pride associated with being from a line of royalty can help to encourage self-confidence in people from urban communities. It helps to level out the playing field in people’s minds.

Dr. Danielle Cooper from the TOW Youth Justice Institute presented on Youth Injustice in our community and stories like Kalief Browder, a young black man who was jailed for three years awaiting a trial for a crime he didn’t commit. The amount of stress incurred during this time had the worst possible effect on Kalief’s life, two years after he was released, he took his own life. Dr. Cooper focused on this story to help show the inconsistencies and inequities in the Justice System. Dr. Cooper also identified nine different layers of injustice that took place during the Browder incident, he was targeted with stop and frisk, the bail system increased his bail forcing him unable to be let out on bail, his confinement conditions were unconstitutional, there were numerous incidents of misconduct by his correctional officers, Browder was placed in solitary confinement for a large amount of his time behind bars, his right to a speedy trial were infringed upon by the overbooked court systems, lastly, there is no way to get this time back, and civil litigation does not allow for his family to collect reparations for the loss of Kalief. Kalief’s story and stories like his are too common in America, organizations like Our Piece of the Pie are working to try to help families in these situations and similar situations too.

Some OPP youth were given their chance to speak during a lunch panel. This was one of the most influential parts of the day. Salvatore, Kamari, Nazareen, and Frederick took their turns sharing their stories. When asked about the resources that were the most helpful to these young people as they reintegrated into the community, they all had similar answers: someone. They needed someone, they needed guidance, they needed support, they needed someone to believe in them, they needed someone to trust in them, they needed someone they could confide in. Frederick talked about the relationship he built with his YDS. “She called me and told me I had a paycheck because I had been procrastinating three days in a row. When I got there, I had no paycheck and she scolded me about where I had been and what I had been doing. That’s the little stuff I am talking about that I don’t get at home and it really helps us.”

Kamari provided her insight on what other help might be needed when assisting these young people. “Anger management classes and support, we need it all. I need anger management because I’ve been through something. We need everything right now, because there is a lot of kids that’s going through a lot of things that people don’t know or might not understand. There’s a lot of deep stuff in people’s lives that took a toll on them and made them take different steps in their lives go to things that they didn’t want to go to.”

Sal added in saying, “We need more OPP. If we have more OPP, you will see less youth going into the justice system. We need more amazing staff, we need more everything, we need as much help as we can get.”

Nazareen had high praise for Our Piece of the Pie, exclaiming, “Big shout out to OPP! I don’t know how they did it, but they turn water into wine over there. They were able to coach me down the path of what I should be and who I am showing. And that is two different paths that I didn’t realize.”

Spending the day learning about the theoretical, the youth panel gave attendees a chance to hear about the practical, the day to day of young people affected by the justice system.

Dr. Wendy Waithe Simmons and Camara Stokes Hudson from CT Voices for Children presented on the school to prison pipeline and the exclusionary practices that are used that have a huge impact of the trajectory of school children. There are many indicators that Dr. Simmons and Ms. Hudson presented, including academic achievement and suspensions at a young age that can predict the probability of a kid being incarcerated. They dove into school data across the state to see what communities are being hit the hardest by the school to prison pipeline, and what steps we can take to make our state better. These disturbing trends are visible even at the earliest stages with 48% of preschool students who are suspended more than once being black. By increasing pay and training of teachers, we can try to inhibit this trend from continuing.

Matthew Sagacity Walker discussed how to create change through community dialogue using Everyday Democracy’s approach. Walker had attendees interact at their tables to find pieces of similarity between tablemates. This also helped to garner a foundation between the participants before more sensitive topics are discussed. The discussion heard around the room was focused on ways to make people feel more comfortable in their communities. Often the outsider’s idea of how a community is can have a negative connotation because of the media portrayal or the ignorance of the community as a whole. Working in Hartford, it is important to look at people more as individuals instead of looking at them through a lens of a Hartford resident. Everyday Democracy is a nonprofit focused on creating positive change through facilitating conversations.

Our Youth Justice Summit was just the start. Bringing together community members of power in their own respects, was an instrumental piece of starting, however more work can be done. To find out about how you can help out more, or if you have questions about youth justice, reach out to or go to

Spotlight On Success: Chelsea

Chelsea A, 17, is on track to finish up her high school degree next year before she selects a college to further her studies. In the program, she has always been very willing to get tasks done while maintaining a positive attitude. She has been known to volunteer at every opportunity and has a perfect attendance record. Before joining the program, school wasn’t a top priority for Chelsea and she struggled with a complicated home environment. It wasn’t until she had the opportunity of being a Youth Supervisor on a college tour with the Union Baptist Church that she realized she wanted to go to college. This program has really helped Chelsea find the potential inside herself. She has become extremely independent and motivated. She puts in the effort at school to make certain her grades continue to improve. As part of her role working with the Police Athletic League, she mentored and lead children in the right direction. This helped her to realize the potential she has to become a teacher. Because of how well Chelsea has performed in this program, next year she will be coming back as a Youth Ambassador. She has become extremely ambitious in pursuit of new opportunities that will move her forward and is very dedicated to becoming a successful adult. Her YDS, Chanel Wright, said, “Chelsea has found herself through HYSC and is on a path for success. The sky is definitely not the limit for her, it is only the beginning; LIFT-OFF!”

Spotlight On Success: Domminique

Domminique O., 23, is one of the leaders of the Hartford Youth Service Corps. We have been able to see the transition of a shy, not so confident youth to an engaging and very dedicated person. Domminique is one of the hardest workers and most versatile in the HYSC. He started at OPP with the Workforce program, which helped him gain some real-world experience in some fields he might flourish. Since moving into the HYSC group, he has been working in the community doing a multitude of different projects, such as landscaping in residential settings or at a park, or rebuilding traffic islands in the middle of the city. In this program he has been able to capture his potential and become an instant leader in our group. He is gaining experience and His YDS, Phil Starks said, “I see him as an entrepreneur, becoming an owner of his own business, either in landscaping or construction. There are no limits to his success. He will be a Youth Ambassador next year giving him the opportunity to refine his skills as he continues to excel.”

Spotlight on Success: Kamala

Kamala, 17, is about to start her freshmen year at UCONN to study nursing. Throughout this program, she has been extremely committed and viewed as one of the most consistent members of the Hartford Youth Service Corps since joining in July of 2017. Being a recent graduate from the Capital Community College Magnet Academy, she exudes intelligence and is eager to share her knowledge with the community around her. She lives at home with her parents and two siblings. Working with the YDS as well as her school guidance counselor/mentor, she has gained a lot of valuable skills to help her not only progress her job readiness, but also develop as a person. Kamala is known for her outgoing personality and go getter attitude. She’s worked at St. Augustine Church helping to clean-up on weekends, as well as pitching in time at the Montessori School helping the teachers and monitoring the safety of the students. She is a hands-on leader in any group setting and has the ability to rise up and lead her peers to a goal. Kamala sees a lot of value in the HYSC program, even introducing her brother to the program. Her YDS, Tashana Mullings had this to say about her, “She can do absolutely anything she puts her mind to. She is capable of so many different things, the sky is the limit. All she needs to do is keep persisting and pushing!”

Spotlight On Success: Keyara

Keyara, 17, is known as one of the most driven and dependable youth in the Hartford Youth Service Corps. Since starting in July of 2017, Keyara has grown tremendously. She has worked with Hartford Communities that Care, Elizabeth Park and the Boys and Girls Club, as well as working with St. Augustine Church during the weekend cleaning sessions. Keyara is known as one of the friendliest persons in the program. She is always ready to chat with someone and she is not afraid to tell people the truth. With the help of her YDS and everyone in the program, Keyara has come a long way. She has improved significantly not only as a person, but also as a worker. Keyara lives at home with her supportive mom, stepdad, and brother. Her perseverance is one of the best traits about her, she showed this by recently earning a job after a long time of applying. Her YDS, Eboni Clark had this to say when reflecting on Keyara, “She has the leadership abilities to become extremely successful. If she stays on the same track and keeps on being as driven and motivated, she will be able to tap into the true leadership potential she has.”


“Growing up in the environment that I was in, the circumstances were a lot different. For me, it’s about trying to keep myself focused and do what I gotta do and take the opportunities, like joining the Youth Service Corps and OPP. It’s like I take what we learn here and apply it to life. I have two kids, a nine-year-old and a five-year-old, both boys. So the things that I learn I try to pass on to them and teach them things. You know, life is what you make it. I’m not trying to be famous. I just want to have a stable foundation for my children.”- Ke’jon, Youth Service Corps.

OPP is celebrating #givingtuesday by featuring our family in #humansofOPPstories. Remember OPP on #givingtuesday 11/28 and donate today at #youthfirst #Hartford


“I didn’t fall randomly into this field, working with over-age, under-credited students in an alternative environment. It’s my calling. It’s my particular bent in life. These are the students I’m most interested in. I don’t want to be a revolutionary, because that means you come back to your starting place. I want to be an evolutionary and a trailblazer.

“I measure the impact of my work through smiles and laughter. We’re breaking down the façade of toughness. That’s what makes OPP special because—it’s going to sound scripted, but it’s the whole YOUTH FIRST aspect.” – Rodney Powell, Principal of OPPortunity Academy.

OPP is celebrating #givingtuesday by featuring our family in #humansofOPP stories. Remember OPP on #givingtuesday 11/28 and donate today at #Hartford


“Without OPP, right now I would probably be just hanging out in the streets.  If I weren’t in the Youth Service Corps, I would be doing some stupid things right now. I like working with my hands, I like moving around, and I like working. It keeps me focused on things that I should be focused on.”

“Now I started with OPP this summer, I see and I realize the stuff I was doing is not good for me at all. It’s not gonna help me. So now my old friends and I are just looking at life in different ways.”

“I can say that this experience has actually made me realize how much responsibility I really have and when I was hanging out, I had no responsibilities. Everything was just about having fun. Now I see the bigger picture and see there’s more to life than I thought there really was.”
-Andy, Youth Service Corps #humansofOPP #givingtuesday #Hartford#youthfirst #leadership

OPP is celebrating #givingtuesday by featuring our family in #humansofOPP stories. Remember OPP on #givingtuesday 11/28 and donate today at


“We got started fundraising because OPPortunity Academy typically holds graduation in the basement of OPP’s Hartford offices. We worked hard for our diplomas, and we want to shine not in a basement. Staff works hard to decorate the basement and make it look nice, but we want to walk across a stage and feel proud.

We were told students always want to raise money, but they never stay focused on it. So we got motivated and we’ve raised over $500 in two months just from bake sales. We’re working on finding a space, decorations, and making it a real graduation.

Today we were talking to other kids who are not going to graduate in December. We want someone to step up and take over when we’re gone.
Everyone deserves a great graduation. You only graduate from high school once.”

OPP is celebrating #givingtuesday by featuring our family in #humansofOPP stories. Remember OPP on #givingtuesday 11/28 and donate today at

Check Out Our Q&A With Our CEO Enid Rey!

Q&A with Enid Rey

Q: What excites you most about this new chapter in your life?

ER: I’m most excited to see the joy in the faces of our young people; that brings me to life.  When not only I can see their potential, but when our youth discover it themselves, it is incredibly powerful and inspiring.


Q:  What is the most important attribute that you bring to your position as CEO of OPP?

ER:  I think the most important personal attribute I bring to CEO of OPP is a deep commitment to the population of the youth and their families that we serve.  I have been a leader in the field of working with youth, children, and families in various capacities.  I bring to OPP legal expertise, extensive youth development experience, non-profit experience, and especially experience in this community, because I live here.


Q: What drew you to OPP?

ER: OPP has always been an innovator in Hartford and the surrounding regions.  OPP has this way of solving seemingly unsolvable problems, finding solutions to obstacles that are creative while also revolutionizing young people’s lives, as well as our greater community.  OPP has consistently been generating new opportunities for empowering our young people, and I am excited to be a part of that process.


 Q: When you were 14-24 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

ER: I knew when I was 8 years old that I was going to be a lawyer. The challenge was that other people in school and in my community did not see me in that role. And so then at 14, I had the experience of a guidance counselor telling me that I would just be a Puerto Rican girl with 5 different kids from 5 different baby daddies and did not have the “potential” to make it in college. Then when I applied to and was admitted to Mount Holyoke College, he said ‘What’s a girl like you going to do at Mount Holyoke? There are no Puerto Ricans at Mount Holyoke.’ And he was right, there weren’t many of us. Looking back now the challenge for me was that I had a vision for myself that other people did not see, would not support nor ascribe to. People often have a perception of who you are supposed to be and it’s really hard for many of us to untangle that projection from our own visions for ourselves. I believe this happens frequently to our young people. Often, our youth don’t have the people, the financial wherewithal, the safety rails to always support them. And when they fall, they don’t get picked up or supported—they literally fall off a cliff and what is a minor mistake for others becomes a life changing, life altering situation. Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can alter your entire life. These are the issues and experiences that really motivate me in this work. That’s why I came to OPP! Because I know how people perceive our youth. Mostly, they see them full of problems—I see them as full of PROMISE. There is a big difference between those two vantage points.


Q: If you had one free hour of the day, how would you use it?

ER:  I would spend it with our youth.  I think it’s important to ground yourself in why you are doing the work that you are doing.  It energizes me when I hear their stories, their challenges.  It makes me want to work harder, as if they are my own children.


Q: How do you measure the impact of your work?

ER:  I think our work at OPP is measured in two ways, through “customer” satisfaction and community satisfaction.  When we boil it down, did our people at OPP treat you well, and did our work at OPP help with the issue you came to us with.  In the much broader sense, are we helping the community grow by developing a new generation of upstanding citizens who are well rounded and want to contribute.


Q: Who inspires you?

ER:  The youth, both the ones that live in my house and those that I encounter in the community.  What inspires me about them is their perseverance, their persistence in the face of some of the challenging road blocks in front of them.  Their passion and compassion is inspiring to me.  My first day at OPP was so inspiring because I was able to sit in front of a panel of our youth; I got to hear their journey; I was able to learn their stories.  I heard what it took to go through those obstacles, and how OPP helped.  What a way to launch my tenure here at OPP!