‘Schools Not Prisons’ Uses Art to Uplift Santa Ana Youth

Rapper Common made surprise guest appearance and at #schoolnotprisons on April 1, 2017. / Carlos Duarte / el Don

Rapper Common made a surprise guest appearance at #schoolsnotprisons on April 1, 2017. / Carlos Duarte / el Don

The stage was set. Guests piled into the dimly lit ballroom at the Delhi Community Center in Santa Ana on April 1, facing the modest stage that had been erected for a free arts and music event.  

Outside, people began to form lines for free lunch, modeling the free t-shirts and gear being handed out to all visitors.  Attendees strolled through art displays from local artists and a resource fair, both offering information on voting, incarceration, immigration and more.

Weapons of Mass Creation joins Buyepongo at Schools Not Prisons on April , 2017 in Santa Ana, CA. / Carlos Duarte / el Don

Weapons of Mass Creation joins Buyepongo at Schools Not Prisons on April , 2017 in Santa Ana, CA. / Carlos Duarte / el Don

While guests cheered on both local artists and star-studded acts such as Weapons of Mass Creation,  Laguna Hills-native Aloe Blacc, Santa Ana High School’s Jazz Band, and surprise guest rapper Common, the cheer “schools not prisons” rang triumphantly through the community center walls in mighty chants.

The Schools Not Prisons Tour, beginning its second year of traveling through California, is bringing the message of education and prison reform to the communities affected by punishment and incarceration.

Funded by the California Endowment, the social impact firm Revolve Impact organized the event, while working alongside other groups such as Resilience OC and Project: Kinship.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation May 2016 monthly report, over 7,000 youth are incarcerated and held in county and state facilities.  The state of California also spends over $200,000 annually to keep a youth in a state prison, yet, only around $10,000 to keep a child in a K-12 school.  It is effects like these that Schools Not Prisons and other activist groups are hoping to combat, through spreading awareness on the overspending on prisons and the benefits of investing in youth.

“We spend as taxpayers in California, 1 billion dollars to incarcerate 6,000 young people,” said Mike De La Rocha, founder of Revolve Impact. “[Mass incarceration] takes resources away from what really keeps us safe – better schools, investing in our young people and families and having events like today.”

The movement to invest in youth follows the recent move by Santa Ana City Council, which recently voted to cancel $500,000 in grants for youth programs.  The programming, named Community Enhancement Program, would have seen funding go into college preparation, sports, after school tutoring, and health programs.

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“Art is one of the ways in which youth cope and process their experiences,” said Ignacio, a volunteer at the School Not Prisons show and a Santa Ana resident, as he explained the work done by kids as a part of Project:Kinship. “The product is what you see after some of the conversations and some of the things they discuss within their groups.“

Some of the art included painted masks that convey different emotions, as well as graffiti art, to fight the criminal stigma it is branded with.

“Children deserve the best lives ever. As life continues to evolve, they are the ones that get to evolve with it and bring new energy and new ideas and new thoughts and improve the world,” said rapper Common in a press conference before his surprise performance. “If we want a better world, we gotta give them all the resources they can have so they can be better people.

Common, finishing the last leg of his tour through California prisons, greeted guests at the Delhi with songs from his discography, as well as a freestyle praising his audience, Schools Not Prisons and the city of Santa Ana.

“We are all human beings and we all make mistakes and get caught into different situations, and some can be trapped in that one act and it can cost them their lives. The justice system shouldn’t be that,” Common said, addressing his eager audience.

The Schools Not Prisons tour will continue hosting shows this summer and fall, visiting cities all over the state.

“There are a lot of issues that are put forth in Santa Ana. People tend to check it out and say perhaps this is something we could do in our city, our district,” said Walter Muneton, a member of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees and a Santa Ana College alumni.

Muneton has worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Garden Grove for over five years, as well as serving as Director for the GGUSD Truancy Reduction Center and one term as Neighborhood Improvement Commissioner for the city of Garden Grove.

“Serving on the board for Garden Grove, I see a lot of great things that are happening in Santa Ana, I think this would make sense to do in Garden Grove,” Muneton said. “Maybe we can do it in Anaheim. Maybe we can do it in Tustin. We need to start somewhere.”