2012 California Peace Prize Award Honorees
Elder Michael Cummings, also known as "Big Mike," is a violence prevention specialist who uses his leadership skills, personal history and deep roots in the community to create safe streets for youth and opportunities for families in Watts, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Together with his wife, Sauna, Cummings founded We Care Outreach Ministries in 1999, a nonprofit organization working to improve the quality of life for residents, restore hope and strengthen families. In addition to running his own tow truck business, he leads two community programs: Safe Passages and Project Fatherhood.
Born and raised in Watts, and a graduate of David Starr Jordan High School, Cummings believes he understands the challenges youth face in navigating their futures. Since 2001, Cummings has worked to increase students' safety at Jordan High through the Safe Passages program, walking students to and from school and intervening when gangs try to recruit new members. Cummings also created a "safe haven" agreement with local businesses to designate places of refuge along the school route for youth in need of protection, medical attention or police assistance.
Cummings draws on his life experiences, particularly his years on the streets and in the criminal justice system, to establish trust with the people he serves. In partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and UCLA, he leads Project Fatherhood, a program developed by Children's Institute, Inc., at the Jordan Downs Community Center. Cummings primarily works with men who are former gang members and those returning from prison to teach them how to better parent their children, receive job training and find employment.
Cummings is a member of numerous community groups, including the Watts Gang Taskforce and the Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy's Professional Standards Committee. He has received more than 25 commendations and awards from policymakers and government agencies. Most recently, he was honored by President Barack Obama's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative and was named an Ambassador of Peace by California State Senator Roderick Wright.
For more than two decades, Kevin Grant has worked to help youth and adults involved in the juvenile justice system and individuals living in Oakland's most impoverished neighborhoods find alternatives to violence and crime and live healthier lives. Grant is a renowned expert in street outreach, violence mediation and the development of re-entry programs. As a consultant, he provides probation and parole re-entry services and conducts trainings and workshops for law enforcement agencies, community service providers and school districts at the local, state and federal levels. Grant also serves as violence prevention network coordinator for Measure Y, which was passed by Oakland's voters in 2004 to fund violence prevention and public safety.
Growing up on the streets of Oakland, Grant himself was in and out of the juvenile justice system at a young age. Released from federal prison in 1989, Grant took from his experience the motivation to change his life's direction and the compassion to help others like him. One of Grant's first jobs out of prison was as a motivational speaker for Oakland's Parole and Community Team meetings, which are required for individuals re-entering their communities after incarceration. His ability to connect with and inspire people was immediately recognized, and he was asked to conduct similar meetings in other cities.
Today, Grant leads three skilled outreach teams — made up of members of the community — that work to stop violence before it happens. The teams walk the streets of Oakland's neighborhoods plagued by crime. Trusted in the community, the street teams listen and assess issues, mediate potentially violent situations and connect individuals to needed resources. This community approach has resulted in fewer incidents of assault and battery and other violent crimes.
In recognition of his achievements, Grant was honored as a Hometown Hero by Comcast and the Bay Area News Group in 2010 and received the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award in 2009.
The late Dr. Su Yon Park was a licensed psychologist and clinical coordinator at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland (CHRCO), which she joined in 2004 to help create a mental health clinic on the campus of Youth UpRising, adjacent to Oakland's Castlemont High School. Working with youth living in a community plagued by poverty, violence and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, she helped to normalize mental health by systematically making it more accessible. As a result, the mental health utilization at Youth UpRising/Castlemont Health Center is now the highest among Alameda County's adolescent health clinics.
Dr. Park also strengthened the mental health services at Chappell Hayes Adolescent Health Clinic in West Oakland by forging partnerships with the school's principal, teachers, students and other stakeholders. Understanding the impact of violence on youth, she provided professional development trainings for teachers and school staff to recognize and help students exhibiting behaviors related to exposure to trauma.
On September 20, 2012, she died after succumbing to cancer. Prior to her passing, the Foundation sent Dr. Park her award. On October 12, hundreds celebrated her life at Oakland-based Youth UpRising, which is a TCWF grantee. TCWF Board Chair David Barlow joined local community members and regional, statewide and federal representatives in remembering and recognizing her work.