Home News Center YJLI Alum Anthony DiMartino Advocates for Healthy and Just Communities in California

YJLI Alum Anthony DiMartino Advocates for Healthy and Just Communities in California

September 29, 2020
Courtney McSwain

Take me back to when you applied to be a part of YJLI - What prompted you to apply, and what was the most memorable lesson that you gained from the program? 

I applied six months or so after graduating from my Master's in Social Work program at UCLA. I had initially pursued my master's to do work in the youth justice system as a therapist or social worker. I pivoted away from that during grad school into more programmatic work. I was working at the City of Long Beach at the time. The opportunity to participate in YJLI was a way to get back to my passion and be back in the space around youth justice, which was such a strong passion that initially moved me into social work and social justice work. I saw YJLI as an opportunity to be surrounded by peers working in the space and get my mind and heart back on youth justice issues 

One of the important lessons I took away was that this work is happening everywhere across the country, and it doesn't all look the same way. Some people are working at the county level to create diversion or youth development programs. Others are developing curriculums for after-school programs. Seeing the work happening all over the country was inspiring, and I formed relationships that I still have to this day. 

What do those relationships mean to you? What difference does it make in your work?   

I was in my mid-20s and still trying to figure some things out. I'd bounced around trying to find where I fit job-wise, and it was beneficial to be able to call someone and ask for advice in job and personal decisions. Outside of the youth justice work, it was great to have my network expanded, and the diversity of my class specifically was just beautiful. It allowed me to learn about different experiences and cultures, which made me better and expanded my mind about what is possible. It's great to feel supported and that we're in this work together – that gives me hope. 

Did your participation in YJLI change how you see yourself within the larger youth justice reform movement? Or the broader social justice movement as a whole?  

I think it validated the work more – that I belong in this work, and I feel responsible to it. That's what YJLI is about – learning, growing and expanding your skill-set and your mind. I think that's what YJLI did for me – it reassured me and brought me back to my roots...to that feeling that I had when I first started doing youth justice work in college. 

Can you tell us about Californians for Safety and Justice? What is the organization's mission, and what is your role there?  

The organization was founded in 2013 to look at the criminal justice system and how we're spending our dollars; we look at how to reduce prison spending and waste, reduce the prison population and reallocate and reinvest funding in communities. We use advocacy, grassroots mobilization, public education and alliances to change laws and advocate for funding for current and formerly incarcerated individuals as well as those who are survivors of violence. My job is to represent the organization at the state Capitol to advocate for necessary policy and regulatory changes and for smart budgets that serve communities harmed by crime and violence.   

You've done a lot of legislative work in your career. Why did you decide to take that direction as an advocate?  
I started this journey towards legislative advocacy in grad school when I shifted away from thinking about being a therapist to thinking about creating larger systems change. Through grad school and YJLI, I started thinking about how I needed more knowledge of how state policy and state budgets work. An opportunity to do another fellowship here in the Capitol provided itself to me, and I learned how legislation is made and how we do our state budget. As a grant writer and working for local cities, I struggled with seeing good, effective programs not get the funding they needed and too often funding systems that were too punitive and not creating rehabilitation, reentry or healing opportunities. I hoped to come to the Capitol to advocate for more effective and more social justice-oriented policies.  

Other things that you’re working on that you’d like to share?  

I have my personal trainer certification. It's been a challenge to utilize that during COVID-19. I got this certification a few years back to better understand health and wellness and find another way to work directly with individuals to build relationships and create a healthier society. I hope to one day utilize those skills to work with youth who don't always have the opportunity to have a PE class or an after-school sports opportunity…to think about health and wellness in communities that too often don't have the resources to have healthy food or access to park or gyms.

What can NJJN do to support your work?  

The resources that NJJN shares are always helpful. I was just a mentor for YJLI, and that was a good experience to stay connected. I'd love to find ways to feel more connected to the NJJN members here on the West Coast and continue to build and feel connected to NJJN fellows and other organizations throughout the country 

Anything else you’d like to add?  

I'm grateful for the NJJN family and my cohort, which I'm still in touch with. It gives me hope that this network of organizations and individuals are doing this work – whether it's specifically youth justice or, more broadly, racial and social justice work – it's great to be a part of this family, and it's an honor. 

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