Kid CAT celebrated the “forgotten voices” of youth at its 2018 annual banquet.
“Tonight’s Banquet was about bringing awareness to the youths, who think that their voices are not being heard and are afraid to express how they feel to their parents or caretakers,” said Si Dang, Kid CAT chairman.
Kid CAT is a group of men who committed their crimes as juveniles and are serving adult sentences.
Capturing the night’s theme of “forgotten voices” was a series of speakers, actors and musicians who dug into the topics of foster care, homelessness and restorative justice.
Speaking about homelessness was Kid CAT member Chase Benoit, 23.
“I became homeless at 9 years old and although it only lasted a few weeks, the impact will last forever. My dad tried his hardest to make it fun like an adventure, but even then I knew something wasn’t right,” Benoit said.
The last time Benoit was homeless was at the age of 19, six months before he committed his life crime. He slept in cars, on couches and in a tent.
“We had nowhere to go. I had no one but my brother. If it weren’t for him, I probably would’ve starved to death,” Benoit said.
“Being homeless taught me that I can get through anything. Now I want to help other homeless youth find their voice because they are not alone.”
Addressing community efforts to help homeless youths was Stacy Sciortino, program director of the Community Assessment and Resource Center from Huckleberry House in San Francisco, which assists more than 1,000 runaway youths each year.
“A lot of these kids are misunderstood. Their traumas are often masked by acting out,” Sciortino said. “Instead of judging them, let us embrace their challenges and help them so that they won’t feel unheard.”
Youth offender Thanh Tran, 24, spoke about his journey from foster care to prison.
“I was placed into foster care at 2 years old because my mother was addicted to crack cocaine,” Tran said.
Along with growing up without a family, Tran spoke about being bullied in school and neglected by his foster parents, which led him to make a decision to join a gang.
“It is now my goal to continue to work with at-risk youths and give voice to the voiceless, so that they won’t end up here like me,” Tran adds.
Speaking on the topic of school violence was Tommy “Shakur” Ross, 52, Kid CAT member.
“School violence was at the root of my self-destructive ways,” Ross said. “At six years old, I was sexually molested on the way to school by a stranger.”
After the assault, Ross stated that his life spiraled out of control.
After a series of other traumatic assaults growing up, Ross made a decision to join a gang and committed a gang- related murder at 19 years old; this resulted in the retaliation murder of his mother and younger brother.
“Nothing and no one made me commit my crimes…But I can’t help but to wonder, how could my school-to-prison pipeline experience be prevented?” Ross added.
Giving the keynote address was paroled Kid CAT co-founder Neighp “Ke” Lam.
“Three years ago, I was sit- ting in the audience wearing blue just like you. My inmate number was J-52482. I know what it’s like to be hopeless and not knowing when I will get the chance to go home. So if I can make it out, you can too.
“I’m still doing the work, helping to pass legislation for youth offenders. Know that you are not forgotten, and we’re waiting for you out here,” Lam added.
Capping the night of forgotten voices was Kid CAT member Jason Samuel, who spoke about having a restorative justice dialogue with his victims.
“I was nervous and in disbelief when Tom Morgan, the police officer who I tried to kill on April 13, 1997, wanted to meet me in a victim-offender dialogue,” Samuel said.
Speaking at the banquet on behalf of Christy Morgan, Tom’s wife, was dialogue facilitator Martina Lutz Schneider, who read a letter from Ms. Morgan.
“I had viewed Jason as a monster for trying to kill my husband, and I was afraid of him. In May of 2018, I was able to witness a dialogue between him and my husband. Jason was humble and apologetic. He hugged Tom and cried! This was when I knew that he was not a monster but a changed man,” Ms. Morgan wrote.
“The path of Jason’s journey gives me happiness and hope, for that I am eternally thankful.”
Upon reflection, community guest and Project Avary volunteer Jon Deleon, said. “It was really moving and humbling to hear everyone’s story, the men were authentic and vulnerable.
Closing out the event was Kid CAT co-founder Phang Thao, 42.
“As Kid CATs banquet draws to a close, we all heard powerful themes which touch on children’s ‘forgotten voices’ and how these voices caused street and school violence in our communities,” Thao said.
“As Kid CAT passes along these grains of insight, it’s you, the men in blue, outside volunteers, and guests’ responsibility to nurture the growth of children. We can all do it through intervention, prevention, and mentoring our children into responsible adults.”