Dream.Org comes to Sacramento

Dream.Org staff members and participants of the Justice Next Cohort at the Citizen Hotel training on May 25 in Sacramento. Photograph by Steve Martarano

By Steve Martarano

Dream.Org, a national organization based in Oakland, was founded as the Dream Corps in 2007 by entrepreneur-activist Van Jones with the goal of reaching across political divides to bring justice, and environmental and technological change to underrepresented populations.

Until recently, despite its nearby Bay Area roots, Dream.Org’s training has never been made  available to Sacramento-area residents specifically. That changed this year, however, after a grant through the NBA Foundation created a Justice Next Cohort training program for people of color living in the Sacramento area ages 18-24.

Recruits were secured in early spring and 18 individuals began the 7-week program in April, with graduation slated for June 9. The program, which utilizes both in-person and virtual meetings, is limited to participants living in Sacramento County or neighboring counties that have been impacted by the justice system, or are supporters of a justice or climate reform. Each participant receives $2,500 and a laptop computer.

Adrian Lott, who was raised by a single mother and said he was repeatedly told growing up that he would end up incarcerated or homeless, said that when he saw Dream.Org was coming to Sacramento, “it really inspired me.”

“Many didn’t think this was real, that it was a scam, because something like this doesn’t happen in Sacramento,” Wilson said during a two-day training session May 24 at the Citizen Hotel in Downtown Sacramento. “To hear that was very troubling, so I’m grateful we’re able to bring this cohort into Sacramento to provide these young adults with the tools and resources they need to challenge some of the most pressing issues here.”

Split into three sectors — Green, Justice and Tech — Dream.Org, hopes to end mass incarceration, stop climate change and create new economic opportunities in overlooked communities, according to the organization’s website. Their approach, they said, has won bipartisan criminal justice reform, while helping hundreds of Black, indigenous and other people of color pursue jobs in sectors like climate and tech. 

Sacramento’s first Justice Next Cohort session in April and May included an introduction on how to organize and start a campaign utilizing storytelling pertaining to specific issues of interest, said Yuri Sadiki-Torres, a national organizer with Dream.Org helping lead the Sacramento effort. 

“We provide all the organizing resources and tools for them to start a campaign,” Sadiki-Torres said, noting that training will focus on leadership and workforce development, public speaking and how to advocate and talk to elected officials.

The first cohort training primarily focused on issues within Sacramento such as housing, the housing crisis, gun violence and mental health, said Sadiki-Torres, as well as preparing participants for the NBA Foundation’s yearly All-Star Pitch Competition that aims to empower the next generation of tech leaders and entrepreneurs of color. 

Títílọpẹ́ Olotu, a former Mira Loma High School student now attending UCLA, is using the cohort to help her enhance her own nonprofit Period Padi, which has helped 600 young girls in Nigeria by providing menstrual products and educational materials, she said. Olotu eventually wants to bring her program to Sacramento-area high schools and incarcerated women.

“This has truly been a valuable experience and I’m grateful for all of the connections and relationships I’m making here,” Olotu said during a lunch break at the Citizen Hotel training session. “I think that Dream.Org is a big resource for youth who want to make an impact in this community but don’t know where to start.”

ward-winning director Adrian Rashad Driscoll and founder of the virtual reality entertainment company Collimation, addresses the Justice Next Cohort about how to effectively pitch potential clients on May 25 in Sacramento. Photo by Steve Martarano

Participant Adrian Lott, who is also with Sacramento’s Black Youth Leadership Project, was raised by a single mother and said he was repeatedly told growing up that he would end up incarcerated or homeless.. He said that when he saw Dream.Org was coming to Sacramento, “it really inspired me.”

“In April, I learned a lot about storytelling and how important it is to tell your story,” said Lott, who has attended Kennedy High School and Cosumnes River College. “The story that I’m telling is that even without a father and living with a single mother, you can make change. I hope to inspire people that no matter what your situation is, you can come out of it. You can still lead people.”

Wilson said another cohort for Black and brown youth ages 18-25 is planned for Sacramento in 2025 and recruitment will begin shortly after the current group’s graduation. “We’re definitely committed to the long haul here in Sacramento,” Wilson said.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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