218: How to Better Serve Formerly Incarcerated and System Impacted Students with Alexzander Calderon

218: How to Better Serve Formerly Incarcerated and System Impacted Students with Alexzander Calderon

 

In this episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast, we discussed the topic of how to better serve formerly incarcerated and system impacted students with our guest, Alexzander “Zander” Calderon. Zander is a father and life long partner, cholo, Chicano del barrio, and co-founder of Cabrillo & Hartnell’ college’s Rising Scholars Student Clubs. He’s also formerly incarcerated, a Loyola Law Forensic Gang Expert, and the Creative Director for Barrios Unidos Clothing.

On the show, Zander discusses the profound challenges faced by formerly incarcerated individuals pursuing higher education, including his own personal journey. He shares examples of the multifaceted support that formerly incarcerated and system impacted students need, including mental health support, community building, and empathy from peers and professors. He also stressed the need for increased visibility and acceptance of formerly incarcerated students in academic spaces and offers advice for those with shared experiences.

You can connect with Zander on Instagram @risingscholarz and @alexzander_dagreat and @risingscholarz_podcast_stories

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218: How to Better Serve Formerly Incarceated and System Impacted Students in Higher Ed with Alexzander Calderon

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Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Fem toring Podcast. This is your host, Dr. Yvette, and today we're going to be discussing how to better serve formerly incarcerated and system impacted students. Our guest today is Alexander Calderon. He is a father and lifelong partner.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Cholo Chicano del Barrio and co founder of Cabrillo and Hartnell College's Rising Scholars Student Clubs. He's also formerly incarcerated a Loyola law forensic gang expert and the creative director of Barrios Unidos Clothing. Alexander, so one thing that I'm going to mention to the audience is that you're actually on the podcast thanks to an audience nomination on Instagram.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Every now and then I'm like ready to book some new guests and I always trust my audience. I trust the people that follow me, les tengo mucha confianza, and so when they tell me that they recommend someone, I usually follow [00:01:00] up with folks in the DMs, and if they get back to me, great. If they don't, no hard feelings.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But you got back to me. So we brought you on the show today. And I'm excited to hear from you. So welcome to the show. Alexander.

Alexzander Calderon: Thank you for the introduction. No, yeah, I certainly did get back to you. I spend a lot of time on that. I tell people this all the time. The cell phone is really a tool. I know it's used for different things, but it really is a tool.

Alexzander Calderon: It's a computer in our hands. So I've learned how to navigate it. I also recommend it for a lot of other homes to learn how to navigate their phones. So, hey, how you doing? Thank you. Thank you for having me on. However, not only I appreciate it. I'm excited to be here and talk a little bit about myself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Sure. So can you start us off by sharing a little bit more about who you are, what you do, and anything you're comfortable sharing about your background and backstory?

Alexzander Calderon: Who am I? You know, I'm a native of Los Angeles. [00:02:00] I'm a Chicano. I'm still a gang member. I still represent my neighborhood.

Alexzander Calderon: And that always hasn't been the case. I had about a year where, where I felt like maybe I shouldn't because of how the negative. Perception of a game member is, but, but then I, I just decided to, to know, to, to claim my neighborhood in these, in these spaces so that people could see that, you know, we still belong to my neighborhood and do good things and hopefully other, other people who, uh, who see us could, could, could understand that.

Alexzander Calderon: And so, and yeah, and I'm from Los Angeles. I'm a father. I'm the son of two Mexican immigrants who came to Los Angeles in the late 70s. Both my parents are from Guerrero. They now resided back home in Guerrero. And I have three sisters. One brother, we grew up in Northeast Los Angeles some people may recognize the particular area we grew up at, Jews Street real infamous street but also really culturally [00:03:00] rich.

Alexzander Calderon: That area was really, like, populated by a lot of people from the same town, Guerrero. And so we were literally living with cousins and tíos and everybody, the whole family. And it was like that for other families, so. But, but that neighborhood, like, like many other neighborhoods in black and brown communities I started, you know, it was like drugs, gangs, poverty and then you add you know, Mexican machismo in there police harassment, la mira, back then we don't refer to it as ICE, we knew it as la mira, and in those days LAPD was actually allowed to call in immigration.

Alexzander Calderon: And none of those policies have changed, but there were really, really common fear. With immigration, I had my uncle and his family, my uncle and his, his, his wife were actually, you know, apprehended, arrested and, and, and deported and a whole section of my cousins had to, to, to go back to Mexico and live there.

Alexzander Calderon: And so [00:04:00] that was a real thing. Now, and I know it is today. And it just felt like more and more real back then that they were able to come into to our neighborhoods and be present. So anyways, I, I, I, I grew up with all these things that many people in the hood and neighborhood are familiar with.

Alexzander Calderon: But among those things I, I think something that I, I think some of us don't really talk about, I kind of wanna mention was I, I was also sexually abused and, and really exposed to a lot of that early on in my, in my childhood, which then really. Influence my own sexual behaviors and, and the way that I, I, I would interact with girls.

Alexzander Calderon: And so that became also part of, like, of my identity drugs, girls, gangs, and violence. So those things were very much prominent in my life. And that's what I identified with growing up in this neighborhood. At a certain time, and I got involved more so [00:05:00] in the other close knit subculture neighborhood, which is a gang, which is really a small component of the neighborhood, but it's such a big presence and, and, and those four things became part of my life.

Alexzander Calderon: And and in that, I, I knew, like, at the age of 11, this is what I wanted to do, but at the age of 15, I, I, I had a sense that I would die. In, in gangs, in, in, in the street side. By that time I was already shot at three times. Shot on one occasion six times. And and so, I, I, I knew it. I knew it. It's like, I, I, I don't care.

Alexzander Calderon: I, I live by this language then that I, I didn't give a fuck. And and those... Those words, you know, became a mantra. I don't fuck. And that's how I lived my life early on, uh, as a teenager, well into my own, my early young adult life. I. I, I didn't care. I was, I was so broken by then. I, [00:06:00] I knew the consequences of this lifestyle, but I was, I was willing to die for it.

Alexzander Calderon: I, I just didn't care. I was willing to die for the camaraderie, the acceptance, the, as, as unhealthy as it was, the love, the admiration, the connection with other homies who were also, if, if not just as equally, but even more so broken and more hurt. And so it, it, it, it became what I thought it would, and I ended up in prison for a very long time, um, and during my time in prison for the first seven years, I didn't think much of anything else but more criminal activity and more of the same behaviors and thinking about the same things once I, once, if, if, if, if I did get out, right?

Alexzander Calderon: But but I, I, I, I'm so fortunate to, to have people in, in my life that that always been able [00:07:00] to, maybe if it was a word or two, maybe if it was a conversation or a letter or something or another would come through and someone was, been very close to my, my, my existence for a long time. Father Greg just happened to be visiting a prison.

Alexzander Calderon: That I was at and I saw him and I think a bunch of other people who know him saw him and stopped by the doors of our sales where we were doing a shoe turn. And I said hi to him, he said hi to me, told him what time I left and I asked if he could do me a favor, if he could send me a book to read.

Alexzander Calderon: And I asked him to send me one of his books. And instead he sent me a different book and it was this book, I think people probably read it a lot, it's The Four Agreements. And and that was a book that really, really influenced me a lot to start thinking, expanding just my mind or the choices that I've been making, why I made those choices.

Alexzander Calderon: Like, one of the things that I, I learned even now, we all know it, like, as far [00:08:00] as, like, you know some people like myself, I could say, right? Like, all I've known is, like, bad things, like doing bad things. And it's just part of me, so. Taking things personal for me, I had to find out, well, if I take it personal that my father, you know, beat me for all those years, and I really should just start thinking, like, well, maybe that's all he knew.

Alexzander Calderon: And in fact, that's, that's all he pretty much known. And same thing for myself, right? It's pretty much all I've ever known. And so that book really, really helped break that down to me. And even today, I have to refer back to it, to the book, to like, I'll remind myself, like, I don't take this personally.

Alexzander Calderon: But, but it's not easy as I said. But anyways, and so it was that book that really opened me up to start thinking differently. And and prior to being released from prison I began thinking differently because of that book and so something in my mind started thinking about [00:09:00] education. And I think it was, you know, I would watch I'd sit there and while I was in prison, and I watched what the banking system had done to the housing, created the housing crisis, right, those mortgages they just gave out to people, not really caring, and then ultimately, You know, people lost everything and just kind of paid into a system of distortion, really.

Alexzander Calderon: And, and I saw how these people with, you know, this education, white men were able to do these, these, these institutions. And it just stuck to me like, well, you know, it's, it's, it's really getting to college and getting these degrees and it's really how they were able to do it. Right. And so I started thinking about that, like they're no different than I am.

Alexzander Calderon: They're just doing it in a different way. And, and I thought about education and in that kind of twisted way, and I said to myself, I'm gonna get out, go to a business school and get a degree in business, get myself involved in like Fortune [00:10:00] 500 companies and whatnot. And and something you know, when I, when I was released from prison, I, I shout out to Brady Morgan at Homeboy Industry.

Alexzander Calderon: She's such an amazing person. She runs the academic department there, which is, I'm pretty sure she's responsible for more than 500 active or non active former or former or current gang members going to community college and beyond. That's, that's, that's an amazing person. But it was her really who, you know, she heard me, what do you want to go to school for?

Alexzander Calderon: Like, she was happy that I wanted to go to school, but really, really, why I wanted to go after business. She said, you know, try out sociology, anthropology, and really just something that was like, ah, whatever, just business and so on. It was really the discovery of sociology, active sociology, and I was listening to a white professor talk about me.

Alexzander Calderon: And it was like, hey, you're, you're, you know, you're [00:11:00] describing my life, my experience in these books. And so it was really, like, baffled, like. Wait a minute, how are they experts? How are all these people writing about, about me? And it bothered me so much. It was really what, like, really switched everything around me.

Alexzander Calderon: And in academia, and advocacy, and, and taking up space, like, it was just that. That, that, this, this person. And, and I think even more to that, that same very same expression we're talking about, I grew up in the neighborhood in Highland Park. It's now gentrified. And this professor was talking to me about this in her class, and I happened to see the same professor two weeks later at Antonio's and Figueroa in Highland Park.

Alexzander Calderon: And so this professor was talking to me about the gentrification, the ills of gentrification, happened to be in Highland Park having a drink. And I just like, wow. I, I, I, yeah, it really like, no, this [00:12:00] is, this is not, this is not cool. And, and that really didn't begin kind of shifting this anger that I, I've had since I was a kid.

Alexzander Calderon: And, and thinking in terms of like, what do, how do I use this, this knowledge that everyone says I have, right? You have all this knowledge how I use all this learn to articulate and then, then moving it to where I could make a difference. And and I really didn't get that experience until I, I, I, I really, as, as much as education, um, you mentioned being the president of Cabrillo and Heart.

Alexzander Calderon: Now, it really wasn't really much for. The student clubs and groups on campus really was opposed to come from an environment for years and present and before that really right where it's not really not really much of a social group as we really are. Right? We hang out with each other. But besides that, it's no one else.

Alexzander Calderon: So it's only a [00:13:00] few selected to come into that. And so it wasn't the, yeah, it wasn't the community person that I am today. bUt, but I also have to, again, credit my partner with that, Lorena, as well as Brittany, and another amazing person at Homeboys named Laura, who was also a student at the time at PCC, we were going to school together, and really compassionately and lovingly, like, were patient and kind with me, and would still invite me, even though I was, like, anti them.

Alexzander Calderon: And and they would constantly hammer me with the power that I had, or what I could do, what I could use, and how important this, how important community was. And I just planned on going at it by myself. And it wasn't until I got to Cabrillo College, and I told Brittany about a year ago, at the beginning of January, that I was going to be attending Cabrillo College.

Alexzander Calderon: And she says, there's... There's a Rising Scholars program up there, at the time I didn't really know what Rising Scholars was, and she says, Get up there, it's going to be, like, all these things are [00:14:00] going to be there for you to help you. And I was coming up to Cabrillo, really with nowhere to live, with just a car a little bit of clothes, and I really just wanted to get away from Los Angeles, and just come to Cabrillo, which is in Santa Cruz, and I had a friend who lived nearby, and told me about Vatos Sanidos, that they come up here, there's a great organization, there's people that you could be used, you're awesome.

Alexzander Calderon: Like, okay, so I come up here and I make my way to Cabrillo, and I admit there, I emailed the director in charge of the Ryder Scholars Program, and it was really

Alexzander Calderon: At first, I went in there and I told him, you know, what my situation, what I needed, the resources I would require to stay and go to school. And he apologized and he informed me that that yes, the Internet website says this, but they don't, they haven't had the funds, they don't have the funds yet and they're going to do it in the fall.

Alexzander Calderon: So I walked out of there feeling defeated and left it alone. [00:15:00] And then I spoke to Brittany and she says, no, it's here and so forth and I think you should go talk to him. So I go talk to him again and again, he just kind of tells me in the fall and this after I told him no, he actually had the funds and he says in the fall.

Alexzander Calderon: And so by the third time, I really stuck with that feeling of like, he's basically telling me to go away. And it, it burned in me, it burned in me and I, I, I, By the third time I went back, I don't know what came out of my mouth, but what came out of my mouth was we're going to do it now, and this is why we're going to do it now.

Alexzander Calderon: And, and I then, I think I had no intention of anything that I told him. I think I told him I have an email address that I'm going to send to the president, this person and that person, and I'm going to CC you on there, and I'm going to talk about my neighbors club and why. And, and literally at the end of like, what I said, he said, well, Alex.

Alexzander Calderon: Is that important? We can start the club now. And and so we started the club from a thread of an email. And, [00:16:00] and, but it was that feeling of like, I, I, I understood what, what triggered to me. It was a person again in power, a white person in power, white man in power telling me, no, not now. I'll do it in the fall.

Alexzander Calderon: And, and yeah, it just shook something in me. Like, I'm not going to take this. And I just got to learn how to normally, I, I, I. It comes from a background where it's more so of a result of a violent, you know, violence would probably occur when something like this. And so being in a space like this, like, well, what do I do now?

Alexzander Calderon: So I had to kind of learn to like, okay, this is how I'm going to navigate this. Yeah, we talked to people, we talked to senior duty, we write this email, we do this instead of like, I'm not going to fight the director of this place or pressure him by threats or violence and so learning to. Conversate with people become the newest task for me because I was never comfortable with being able [00:17:00] to express myself where I wasn't so great to them.

Alexzander Calderon: And that's been a challenge as well, because, you know, even now, it's the way that I talk, the tone that I may use, or the attitude that I might come into may seem threatening to them. But to me, it's you standing my ground, and, and so, so I've had to, some of me has had to turn that back and set that down at times and be.

Alexzander Calderon: reAlly calculating about my, how I respond. But that's, that's how that club started and as, as well as Heart Now, I, I also knew that that college also had this funding and they had it there for a few years, but they hadn't, they hadn't done anything and no one was going to push them towards doing this.

Alexzander Calderon: And so that, that then woke up this fire that again, I attribute to those three women about what it was to do work and advocacy and stand in place with people they know how to stand in place. And I knew I had this voice and I knew that I could use it. And so then I began using it, and it just took on its own.

Alexzander Calderon: I have no idea how [00:18:00] I even got to the Rising Scholars page. Or, or podcasting or gathering people's stories or any of this, it just really took on its own. But I have to credit those, those three women who, and other people who have come now and who continue to support me out. There's this amazing woman named Irene Sotelo, who actually created her along with Joe Lewis.

Alexzander Calderon: And Adrian created the Rising Scholars the name of it and it was taken by the state and then used to become the Rising Scholars Network. And so, I took the name back, I trademarked the name and I really reached out to those people who started this and, and they're supporting me so much. And Irene, who, who I refer to as Tesla, like a mom, one of them, you tell her, I just want to make you proud.

Alexzander Calderon: And so, some of it has... Has been so cool to have people supporting me in this, this new phase of like something that I didn't know I had within me. And and so that's really, you know, to take you from a long journey of being a kid growing up [00:19:00] in the hood, with all kinds of abuses and traumas, to not giving a fuck about life and willing to die for this shit.

Alexzander Calderon: And to like, no, I want to live. And and help dismantle and disrupt the systems that exist with even with the university that I think I tell people all the time, the university, the colleges don't really give a fuck about you or me. They don't care whether you can look at the transfer rates. What happened is, is the people within that community, the people within the wisest fathers community, the homes, those people are the people who To push us, to support us, to inspire us, to walk with us, to make sure that it's not the president of the campus, you know, and so, or the institution hasn't even created the structural changes to, for us to even thrive, and so the small communities are there, the small hoods in every one of these colleges, those spaces where we're at, is the people, are people who ensure that we move on and [00:20:00] inspire and continue to expand And so that's that's what I'm so grateful for.

Alexzander Calderon: I had no idea that any of this was in my path. But it's something people always say, you know, like, everything happens for a reason. And it's always difficult for me to sit with that because I've heard so many people along this path of helping and mentoring and advocating. And it's not like I was intentional about wanting to hurt people.

Alexzander Calderon: It just sort of just was my nature for a very long time. So I've, I've discovered that, you know, in these spaces. I was looking at one of your questions earlier. And it really resonated with me when it comes to like, Um, and I'm not sure if you want to ask you, no, no,

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I love that you are going into it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I just, I'm here to listen and, you know, ask follow up questions. So feel free to, to, you know, dive straight in. I actually, one thing I want [00:21:00] to say really quick is I just want to amplify what you said near the end of you telling your whole kind of trajectory up to this point, how you said you went from not giving a fuck about your life to wanting to live.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thank you. and to then finding hoods within institutions and finding folks and community to support you. That's really, really powerful what you said. So I just want to amplify that just, you know, for folks to like kind of marinate with that because it's It's so true. It's not, it's not the policies and the higher ups and the admins.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It's really the, the people doing the work. You know, it's, it's, it's the mentors, the femtors, the advocates, the activists, the students, you know, you name it, those are the ones doing the work. So, Thank you for saying that. But yeah, I'll let you keep going with I don't even know which question. I usually send folks [00:22:00] questions in advance just to get a sense of what we can talk about.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But I don't know which question you're talking about right now.

Alexzander Calderon: Well, part of it is like, how do institution, you know, support it, right? I think I think institutions is as popular and trendy as it is to have formerly incarcerated students at your college campus. Now, then there's no money for it. Right? And money for the institution to take us in and support us.

Alexzander Calderon: You know, there's a lot that comes with us where I just described with you a little bit about myself, right? A little bit of the most fucked up parts of me. And so, and that's just not unique to me. It's very common amongst us. And so there's, there's, we, we, I've discovered this, and not just myself, in my own observation, that there's so much healing now going on within institutions, within academia.

Alexzander Calderon: So we're just not coming to school just to learn now. Yeah. We're actually now going through the process of discovery, because the knowledge then opens up the wounds, right? And so now [00:23:00] we're examining these things. Like, why am I angry at this white man telling me no? Oh, now I know. Because you have a long, long, I just forget this in my mind.

Alexzander Calderon: This is going on. And even as he does it with a smile, it's like, no, no, no, you've always done this with a smile. And so, you know, it's really that. And so when I come back to, to, as I've advocated for the creation of the last 2 clubs, you know, 1 of the things that I've emphasized is, hey, I would like to have somebody you know, mental health, mental health counselor or whatever.

Alexzander Calderon: Yeah. Be part of this, this, this, this club that it's there for us to, to be able to be checked on or check in with some of them. And I remember them telling me oh, no, we have somebody who wants to have food and go to the meeting. And and I said, no, well, I actually, you know, a lot of us are not going to go, you know, we're just not going to go and I'm not just not going to happen.

Alexzander Calderon: And so, well, you know, we can't [00:24:00] force, I'm not asking anyone to force, I'm just asking to have somebody. And mind you, again, I wasn't talking to the right person. But the person who was in charge, I had to talk to him and kind of didn't I had to invite another person from the mental health facility part of the school to come and help kind of explain what I was talking about.

Alexzander Calderon: And it was a brown woman. So it was like, you know, because of the stigma and because of man, because it's just not gonna and so I think what he said, I think what the students advocate for us to have me. Thank you. Be present and checking in and calling. So, and then he, the directors mentioned, well, this is like case management.

Alexzander Calderon: Like, I don't really care what it is, but I think it's very helpful. And so we jump into this, like, in academia, you know, for us for, for the homies, I think there's a lot of that that we, we, we encounter and we have to learn how to deal with in these settings, you know educators, right? It's the biggest thing that we're going to have is.

Alexzander Calderon: Are we going to have people who are educating us, the [00:25:00] professors who are behind it, who know that, you know, some of us have spent years, never, never planning this not even being tech savvy, I have homies who have got it out after 40 years, they've been locked up since 1980 something, and, and they want to go to school, and they don't even know how to use a phone, it's the most, you know, and so, as far as I can understand, you're talking to them about MLA format, you know, he doesn't even know how to open up his email.

Alexzander Calderon: This is true. And, and so it's, it's like empathy, it comes down to again, is what we're asking the institutional we're asking for support. We're asking for empathy, but not to any type of empathy, but genuine. I think it's hard to ask these institutions to have genuine empathy for us. And so, but that's really what we're asking is to have empathy.

Alexzander Calderon: You know, in spite of all this shit that we did and all the, all the crimes, all the people we hurt, um, and all the choices we've made, [00:26:00] those things don't define us according to what we're told, and so we're asking that they have to finally the opportunity to, in a sense, be watched. There's a, there's a, a great sister and mentor of mine down in South Central.

Alexzander Calderon: Our name is Darlene, and I remember one time she said to me, you know, Alex, you're really like like a child. You're really like a manchild, and, and that's okay. I hope you don't find that wrong, but you really haven't had the experiences that, you know, normally people have. And so I, I had to think about when I see a lot of homies, they really haven't had the same experiences.

Alexzander Calderon: If everyone has had, they, they've had to grow up fast and, and, and, and, and really in a lot of under pressure, a lot of under stress for survival. And so when you do put 'em in spaces where anger becomes an issue. Or resentment or frustration. There's, there's so much that they don't, we don't know how to, how to, how to, how to, [00:27:00] how to communicate these things to people.

Alexzander Calderon: That's like, probably the biggest issue, not knowing how to communicate to begin with. And so, let alone ever experiencing these things. So, mental health is the biggest thing. And for us, the most important thing, critical for us is to have the institution understand where we come from. Because it's a challenge and it requires more, more more patience, more love, more empathy.

Alexzander Calderon: But, but yeah, yeah, it's a challenge, of course.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Are there any other things that you wanted to mention in terms of how colleges and universities can support formerly incarcerated students? I know you, you mentioned. Mental health support for sure. You mentioned having empathy. But you also have started, you know, these clubs.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so there's a need for support. There's a need for community. Anything else though, like in terms of maybe peers or if not peers, you've already mentioned a little [00:28:00] bit about like professors being more empathetic and then. The admin, like kind of bigger level systemic or policy level. What, like, what, what, what else comes up for you that you're like, yeah, this, this is a type of support that would be a game changer that could definitely benefit folks who have shared background and experience as you, or who have been impacted by it.

Alexzander Calderon: You know, Doctora, I would say like, you know, you and I may have had a different life, right? We had a different upbringing and whatnot. And perhaps you weren't exposed as much as I was exposed to or other, or other you know, or other of your colleagues, right? We have Doctoras who do come from the hood, who do come from like gang lifestyle and so forth.

Alexzander Calderon: Maybe we don't have that common between you and I, but what we do have in common is we are people who come from the same background. Culture, right? We were brown people. We live in the same city. And so we [00:29:00] could relate to some things, right? In the sense of being constantly oppressed or having to deal with harassment or fear of police and so forth.

Alexzander Calderon: And so some of these things that we remind ourselves, like, uh, there was something I saw Joe Lewis post up about HSI, right? And store certain offices where people are not necessarily talking about. Formerly incarcerated students. It's just about, like, the, the bigger, um, the I guess what I want to, not the bigger, but it's just about the overall population of the school, right?

Alexzander Calderon: Just, and if you put, like, if you talk about, like, okay, well, it's the overall population, brown folks and, and not more so, including this is smaller. Populations, subculture of homies, right? And so for us to be for us to feel more community with the larger aspect of brown folks and black people in academia and academia circle, right?

Alexzander Calderon: To have that would [00:30:00] would benefit so much. You know, I, I've heard a match. All right. And I hear all these things about like, yeah, when you get to do this, right? So I'm like, okay, cool. You know, do we go there? Are we accepted there? Are they cool with us? Because that's some of my thing, right? It's there's just.

Alexzander Calderon: There's this divide, and I think we're more alike than we're not, and so that's, that's the other, I think, it's, it's, it's on my mind, and for me, I think, well, how, how can I, how can I get there? Right? And I think, how can I get to a space where I can have these conversations, like, say that we're more like, we should be doing more work with each other.

Alexzander Calderon: Right? And I say that to say that I think a lot of us have someone that we know who has been incarcerated, who has been affected by gang violence or so forth. And so, you know, we, we have cousins, we have aunts, we have feos who may have been affected by this. And so if, if, if I could tell you a quick story real quick, in my professional [00:31:00] capacity while I was in Santa Maria I was a youth justice coordinator working with, with, with a particular youth for a couple of months.

Alexzander Calderon: His name was Adrian. And Adrian had been working for 2 years, by the time he was 14, from 14 to, he was 16, he had been working with the rising scholar, Smiley Hancock, called the Biggie Club there, and they really mentioned and hammered away about college, right? And so I was able to come in and be his mentor for a bit, for a couple months, and he was released and, and so I have no credit for, for walking this kid to, to, to the Santa Barbara City College and enrolling him into college.

Alexzander Calderon: That, that's all the Beaty Clubs, the homies that did that work, but, but I saw it then, right? I, his mother, la señora estaba llorando like half way and I can hear it all day, right? And I knew it, right? I, I knew that this homie who, who was like me, right, who, who thought like, I'm going to prison. I'm going to go, I'm going to go with other homies and instead said, nah, I'm going to go to campus with these other homies.

Alexzander Calderon: And so. [00:32:00] So I knew then that his family, his mother, his, his, his brothers were going to see life differently and the change was gonna happen. And so I, I guess I say that in the large, that if, if we're all connected, right? Yeah. His, he heals, his mom heals. Yeah. And we begin to grow and it just takes it in a wave.

Alexzander Calderon: In all our community, all brown, black people get a chance to feel and sense this. Yeah, I guess that's what it is, right? You think about, like, I'm in campuses, right? And it's still like stigma and taboo because I say I'm formerly incarcerated or whatever. And so now all the students will, you know, want to talk or, or come and say hi or have that.

Alexzander Calderon: And so I think that's the other thing, right? When we get in these spaces, we start talking about, like, hey, we're part of this community too. And I'm sorry if you're scared, have fear or whatever. And a lot of that is from their own experience and the only part of what they've seen, right? And so that's the, that's the, that's the work that Polly, I, I, I would love to have the, to, to continue one [00:33:00] day is, is, is that to find commonalities in each other, know that we could be accepted in these other spaces where we don't necessarily feel we belong, let alone college alone.

Alexzander Calderon: Right. aNd so yeah, we're, we're connected where all of us are connected and, and we all have the same fight. And it's the same, the same desire to, to push us all ahead of, and our people ahead such as a big story that I often see graduation year is, is is the homegirl or the homie whose parents are out in the field, right?

Alexzander Calderon: And now more and more, you're starting to see homies who, you know, were formerly incarcerated being celebrated. And so it feels good to see that and so hopefully we can see more of that and people are able to expand their heart a little bit and allow us to hold a place there.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thank you for sharing all of that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You said you said so much. But just about like the impact that and the potential that higher [00:34:00] education has just from from one person doing the work and then bringing in someone else. And how it just like, it's like a ripple effect for healing, not just them, but their communities. The mamas, their sisters, everybody.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I feel like you already covered I was gonna, so I was gonna ask you so what are you know the challenges and you went into the challenges you talked about the challenges of like, if you're incarcerated for a long time you might not have access to tech, you might lose opportunities to have these like normative experiences that folks usually have that might get in the way of you kind of like adulting the way that other people do.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So there's like a lot of life experiences that you miss out on. There's even like just stuff like Missing out on certain educational steps too. So I can only imagine when you're like, I don't even know what MLA is. How do you expect me to write a 10 page essay? I have barely written [00:35:00] anything. Or maybe you've written a lot and you're like, actually, I can write a book.

Alexzander Calderon: I think that's, that's the other part, right? I'm like. In, in, in prison, you know, there's so many great writers, there's so many great artists, there's so many great musicians. If, if given a chance, there's, there's people who could write better books than a lot of other people who are published. It's just.

Alexzander Calderon: And also, I guess they don't also see that in themselves, or the ability to do that, but there is a lot of amazing people that are there that just need to be nurtured, and so, yeah. Oh, this is a lot. I appreciate it. Some of this is, is, the reason, you know, I, I, I started this podcast, and I think I started one with my partner, we started one just a few years ago, and the reason why I, I knew it is, like, I know there's power in this dialogue, there's medicine in [00:36:00] this and so it's the one thing that we can control, right, is, is being able to, to have these, these instruments and, and being able to put on a voice.

Alexzander Calderon: I think earlier yesterday, we were having a friend who dialogue, we, we run the Rising Scholars page, and that really is a collective, the, the podcast and story, that's something more of I do, but in our conversation, it was so much of like, you know, our stories are powerful. Yeah. But who's, who's telling them and, and with what purpose and intention, you know, are you telling our stories?

Alexzander Calderon: And so, you know, that's, that's the other part of what we think about, like, you know, we know that there's, there's power in it and we don't want that to be abused or used for the wrong things. And so to be very cautious of like, you know, how we share this, what's it shared for, obviously there's so much healing that's involved in it.

Alexzander Calderon: So... There's benefits and other things alike, but I'm so fortunate to be here sharing a little bit of my [00:37:00] story. And so I know you've done a lot of amazing work and I've been able to see what you do. And I also know a lot of us familiar with you. And so and so, yeah, I am so happy to be able to share and I hope that someone within your community can.

Alexzander Calderon: Be able to say, you know what you know, I haven't always been comfortable with someone from this particular background, but let me find a little bit of empathy in my heart to say, you know, I want to help mentor this person, this homebro, this homeboy that, that, that's really what I hope this, if anything that comes of that, that you know, people could learn just to give us a little bit more extra kindness and love and empathy, it would go a long way to softening us.

Alexzander Calderon: Thank you. There's so much hardness that we carry.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah, that's great advice for folks who maybe haven't had that experience but are now like walking the path of like encountering and being around other folks who have been in system impacted [00:38:00] or who have been incarcerated. I'm curious, though, I think we're going to get to.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We're close to wrapping up. I would love to hear your advice for folks who are currently students who are formerly incarcerated, who maybe are feeling like, like they're new to this, a little lost or like just trying to figure it all out. Cause it's, it's hard enough to navigate college, navigate four year, two year, four year universities, when you're first gen, when you're a child of immigrants, when you're a person of color, like all that is hard.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But then to add that, that other level of complexity of like, having this added barrier of being formerly incarcerated, what advice would you give to them? What like direct advice, like, or even if you were talking to your former self, when you were just like, when you had that glimmer of hope of like, I'm going to sign up and I'm going to go to my first course, like, what advice would you give to that person?

Alexzander Calderon: Just your higher power, [00:39:00] spirituality, God. That's that's something that was a missing component of my life for a very long time, even at the beginning of this academic journey, um, just asking God to help me navigate my day, to help me move in these circles, in these spaces where I don't always feel comfortable, I always don't feel seen, I always don't feel loved, to just help me, help me see it through, see a better day, to stay my course, stay motivated, I think, Um, that, that's, that's, that's not worked for me so much now because there's so many triggers, so many triggers that come up you know, and so that at least I, I want to say that for homies, you know, in the beginning of for myself, I think now that I'm, you know, so much everywhere in these spaces now that I'm much more involved.

Alexzander Calderon: I ran into homies who were very opposed to being involved, to lending their voice, don't really want to be in community. And I want to do it alone. And I think to me, it is just that it's that they're not [00:40:00] alone, that there's a space at least on almost every campus that there's people there who are going to support him, who's going to help oftentimes we don't ask help.

Alexzander Calderon: And so asking for help is the biggest thing. And the more. We let go of the shame and embarrassment that we carry, the stigma of being formerly incarcerated, or for the things we've done in the past if we're able to be brave enough to let those things go, just a little bit to share with people and folks that we don't necessarily know everything and that we need help.

Alexzander Calderon: I've discovered there's people who are willing to stand with me and help me. And so, um, that's the other thing that I would, I would say is ask for help. And look for community and it takes time and so much of it for me, just because of living experience. I've had that feeling of like, I'm not trusting [00:41:00] a lot of that is that as well.

Alexzander Calderon: It's not not trusting this community. Really kind of like a strange, I guess I don't know if anybody would understand this, but I think the biggest fear that I had as far as the

Alexzander Calderon: community was was the love that existed there. I was so opposed to that, and now I'm not, and I feel so grateful.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Fear of receiving love? I'm sorry, I'm trying to understand that. Yeah. Ah,

Alexzander Calderon: okay. Yeah, yeah, the fear of like, really... Yeah, the fear of, like, receiving the love that's there, it's, it's, it's, it's always, and I'll tell you this, this is a quick story, I, I, there was a homie who, I went down to El Camino at this film screening, and there was a homie that I connected with just a little bit, and then later on that, that evening, I was filming, and there was a space that, that was taken up, and I asked, and, you [00:42:00] know, they're like, no, it's space taken up for hours, and so I'm like, let me go ask whoever's in there, and it turned out to be him.

Alexzander Calderon: And he kind of shared with me a little bit about his current journey and why he was there at that time at night. And so, but at the same time, you know, once he told me that, he also asked him about, you know, like where, you know, but you know, the club, cause he wasn't part of the club, the first club. And and I had to ask him why he told me the same thing.

Alexzander Calderon: Like, ah, it's just not for me. And cool what they're doing and sounding like me sounded just like me. And so I understood him by the way, like, Oh, you're, you're just. And the more and more he talked, you know, it felt, and then he finally told me, like the, the program coordinator, you know, he, he invited me to go to this high school and do this, and at that time, I told him that, um, that if he was serious, you know on helping me.

Alexzander Calderon: You know, to be serious because I don't want nobody to be in my life and then be out of my life. [00:43:00] And that really was what he was like, really what the whole pushing away was and I'm not accepting was, was just fear. The fear of just, oh, you're just here for the job or the money, you know, you don't really care about me.

Alexzander Calderon: And so that's, that's the, that's the wounds we carry. And that's why I think. You know, the people who, who are serving our particular population are people who hopefully could understand a little bit of that. Like, Hey, we, you know, these are wounds that are going to come up and that's what I heard from him.

Alexzander Calderon: And I think that's what I was going through myself back then was like, I don't want to be part of this to me. This, this, I don't even know what this is. And and so, yeah, it's, it's, it's, I heard it in him and I recognize that myself or so. Those are the few challenges. And by the way, I'm pretty sure your podcast is heard.

Alexzander Calderon: It could be heard in prison now. And so there's there's so many people now, so many cute, a lot of [00:44:00] programs in prison people who are now able to attend college and coming out to the college. And so. They're going to come out and have these experiences now, and the institutions are not necessarily ready to serve that that population in the way that it needs to be.

Alexzander Calderon: And I know a lot of. Again, a lot of the healing comes from in the community, the conversations we're having about healing, we're having, not the institution at large. And so that's the beauty of it. We do have people who are there standing in place to provide that. So just love, empathy, compassion, patience.

Alexzander Calderon: Hopefully that those are the components that people could carry and have for us.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That's really great advice. Yeah, especially though. I appreciate you sharing the stories to really kind of like cement it and be like, these are the things these are the specific examples of the ways that we need extra support and healing and that you can do it through whether it's asking for [00:45:00] guidance from.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: A higher power than you believe in to maybe learning to ask for help. Maybe you've never taught how to ask for help or you have an understandable mistrust because of the lack of support that you've received in the past. anD then to actually opening yourself up to love and open your opening yourself up to community.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That's, I mean, I feel like who doesn't need all those things, but even more so when you have been like, devoid of that for so long. So I appreciate you and I just want to kind of leave the, you know, the mic open if there's anything else, any closing words you want to say, and if not, I would love for you to share like how folks can reach you, connect with you, support you and your

Alexzander Calderon: work.

Alexzander Calderon: yEah, I, I want to say there's. In the CSU, there's Project Rebound which is the program that serves formerly [00:46:00] incarcerated students, system impact students, as well as in the UCs, there's the underground scholars and in the CCs and community colleges, there's the, the rising scholars students, and so.

Alexzander Calderon: There's an opportunity for everyone to get involved and all those levels of academia to be able to help. And I think the more and more that we have people who are empathetic and compassionate, and are able to share space and give a mentor, guide, support in any way really possible. That's really gonna help us.

Alexzander Calderon: It's gonna help us heal. It's gonna help us find ourselves and, and, and be able to, to navigate, you know, these spaces. And, and it matters so much because of the, the influence that we have in the community, right? And so a lot of those mentors are, are great. A lot of the professors are, are awesome, who have been able to, to hold space for us and help us navigate it.

Alexzander Calderon: And I, I think the, the, the last thing I, you know, I kind of wanna say is.[00:47:00] It's, it's, it's not the easiest thing for, for us to be on campus, for, for us to, you know, see ourselves. A lot of people talk about imposter syndrome. Yeah. I mean, Hold up, hold

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: up. Why are you laughing?

Alexzander Calderon: I'm, I'm, I'm, because I'm trying to avoid, like, crying here.

Alexzander Calderon: Oh. But if people, like, You, if you think imposter syndrome is real to you, all I've been told is I'm a piece of shit and I'm this and that and so imposter syndrome is, I'm not even supposed to be here on your podcast. I'm supposed to be on the prison cell in a prison yard. So yeah, I think that's one of the biggest thing that the homies deal with, the homegirls deal with is that is that, you know, imposter syndrome and cold switch in any type of way that we have to [00:48:00] fit into these spaces because people feel uncomfortable with us.

Alexzander Calderon: I've dealt with that and I feel so bad that I, for a while, for a minute, I wanted to shy away from the way that I dress, the way that I talk. aNd I had to learn that, you know I'm not going to do it to make people feel comfortable, you know, I'm going to have to show them that that I'm not all those things that I used to represent and it's going to take a while to fully encompass who I want to be, but I know who I want to be.

Alexzander Calderon: It's just a journey to get there. And I think I say that for every homie and homegirl. It's a journey for us to get we want to be, you know, um, and thank you. I want to thank you for the space. And anyone who. It can allow us to, to hold space in, in their mind and their heart for just a little bit. Appreciate that.

Alexzander Calderon: My name is Xander. They find me on IG at the, the, the Great Hood Scholars. But we, we really know the Rising Scholars on Instagram is, is the page that myself and the homies collectively, we, we hold hold [00:49:00] space there on the digital world, um, as well as the Rising Scholars Podcast and stories.

Alexzander Calderon: Hopefully next year. We're looking forward to just add more than just the podcast and really a lot of news articles and stories about homies who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated are doing this work and other people and allies and so want to be able to provide, you know, more and more content to people to feel more inspired about, you know, about being in these spaces and continuing their education and so.

Alexzander Calderon: I hope, you know, people will come out and support us and follow, like, and all that great stuff. Thank you again. Appreciate you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Of course. I'm going to make sure we add all the links to the show notes so folks can support your work and, you know, support the Rising Scholars podcast and just keep following you and everything that you're doing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I want to thank you. So it's Xander or is it Alex? I already told you earlier that I'm tempted to call you Alex because you resemble my brother. I have a brother named Alex. I'm [00:50:00] not kidding. I'm going to have to find a picture and show you. It is so weird. I'm like, I feel like I'm talking to my brother, but I'm not.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It's in a good way. Like if you feel like, like family, like in a good way. Okay. So not, it's not a bad thing. I don't want you to be like, you know, what's, what's she talking about?

Alexzander Calderon: I, I no, I, I, I prefer you. Zander or Xander? Xander. I okay. A friend of mine who passed away gave me that name, and I think I'll forever rock that name.

Alexzander Calderon: Just, just because I love him so much. Yeah. Yeah.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I love that. Okay, well, Gras thank you Zander for coming on the show. For sharing your wealth of wisdom, your knowledge, your experience, all the millions of stories. You're such a great storyteller. Thank you for, for, for sharing everything that you did today.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And for being so open and honest and vulnerable with us too. I really appreciate you.

Alexzander Calderon: Thank you.

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