(Courtesy photo by Gloria Cabrera)
California Forward is committed to advancing political interfaces that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can thrive. To move this forward, we must address the racial and geographical inequalities exacerbated by a public health and economic crisis, and we must heed the call to reduce structural racism. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series expands the stories of Californians who invest their time and talent in solutions that span justice, the environment and the economy.
How can you change the arc of your life?
For 26-year-old Gloria Cabrera, the opportunity came later than she wanted – but the important thing is that it came.
Cabrera's family was economically devastated in 2007-08 when the nation's economy slid into the Great Recession. Her family's restaurant and business in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley has closed. And the effects on her family were almost immediate.
13-year-old Gloria saw her brother end up in jail and two years later she was there for robbery herself.
The extremely independent Cabrera had decided to "do things themselves". She could not.
After her release, she ran into trouble again. She fought drug abuse, homelessness and lived in an abusive home. She realized that she needed support. But after a second stint, this time in LA County Jail for ten months, she was "ready to throw in the towel."
Life in the system seemed assured.
But her lawyer said to her, "Gloria, you can do it and you shouldn't go to jail."
He struggled to get her to a drug and alcohol detox department in Pomona – called the Prototypes Women's Center – where she could get help "because doing it alone certainly didn't work."
Her natural leadership instincts, combined with a desire to truly change, became Gloria's story. She soon earned more responsibility at the center, where she stayed for 18 months.
Then she took another step towards "the stable life I always wanted".
She was accepted into the second cohort of the “Creating Opportunities, Creating Real Experiences” (CORE) internship program through UNITE-LA and the LA Area Chamber of Commerce. The program is designed to help connect young adults with past judicial involvement with private employers in the Los Angeles area to explore their careers.
"This program is aimed at young people who have been involved in the justice system and gives them the opportunity for real change," said David Velazquez of UNITE-LA.
The opportunity came in the form of another lawyer, Elizabeth Yang in Monterey Park. Ms. Yang has a thriving law firm in Monterey Park and was excited to add Gloria to her internship program.
"Everyone deserves a different opportunity," she said. "Gloria took this opportunity and ran with it."
Yang's own story is worth sharing. Her father died suddenly when she was three, which resulted in her mother moving her two children to Southern California, doing welfare for a while, getting a job, and raising her children.
Your mother did well. Both Yang and her brother studied at the University of California at Berkeley. He became a civil engineer and she earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering before deciding to study law and eventually practice law.
Yang is a no-nonsense manager, but he can't appreciate Gloria's success.
"Together with Gloria I hired another intern. I gave both of them a chance. Gloria did it because she was grateful for the opportunity and doesn't take anything for granted," she said.
Cabrera thrived on the internship to the point where she was offered a position as a paralegal.
"She studied every day," said Yang, who found that Cabrera was doing all of the basic internship work such as filing, scanning, and printing. "Her great personality and constant questioning have resulted in more work to be done. Now she even trains some of the new paralegals on occasion."
For UNITE-LA, which connects programs, policies and systems to enable all youth to learn and thrive, Gloria's story is one that should and can be repeated with thousands of other young people deserving second chances.
"In all fairness, Gloria's story is why UNITE-LA is doing this job. It is an example of how life can be changed when everyone has access to education and work," said David Rattray, CEO of UNITE-LA . "5,000 California teenagers are held in detention centers each year. Employers like Elizabeth Yang teach us that investing in these young people can pay off for our youth and employers alike."
Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward, agrees. His organization has called for the creation of inclusive, sustainable growth for all Californians.
"Investing in people and giving them a second chance is at the heart of the California dream," Weinberg said. "Gloria's story is inspiring and instructive."
And this story is not yet fully written. Your journey to the lawyer is on the right track.
Gloria is scheduled to graduate from East Los Angeles College and the Pathway to Law School program. She is ready to undergo the deletion process in order to be admitted to the bar without restriction in the future after completing her studies.
In the meantime she is taking on another project. She will have a baby in December.
"I look forward to being a mother and giving my baby a really stable life," she said.
When we asked Gloria what she would tell her 15-year-old self more than a decade later, she didn't hesitate.
"I'd tell myself to slow down girl. Think and don't be impulsive."
This is good advice at all ages!
The Voices of common prosperity Stories are shared before 2020 California Economic Summittakes place on December 3rd and 4th.