Meet the Fellows

After receiving dozens of applications and a rigorous selection process, we selected 11 accomplished and passionate individuals for this year’s fellowship. Learn more about them! 


Philip Lester
Philip is participating in the fellowship because he wants to see change and become more aware and involved in establishing social/juvenile justice. He is currently going to Los Angeles Community College (LACC), where he is pursuing a major in Mathematics. He is affiliated with Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and he works part-time at the Fairmont Hotel.

His previous leadership experience consists of mentoring youth at YJC as well as peer mentoring youth at LACC via the “Break it to Make it” program. His personal experience as a young person growing up in Los Angeles and being involved with the negativity of the streets is what connected him to crime and the juvenile justice system. He felt the direct impact of being incarcerated as a youth and not understanding the gravity of why.


P1044197Alex Orput
The Juvenile InJustice Fellowship is the convergence of everything Alex is extremely passionate about and it will provide her the opportunities to put her heart, dedication and hard work into the team of Fellows. She is currently a second-year Master of Social Work (MSW) student at the USC Suzanne Dworack-Peck School of Social Work, focusing on Juvenile Justice within the Children, Youth and Families Department. During her undergraduate career at Bradley University, she had the opportunity to be a committee member of the Tunnel of Oppression and researched, designed and implemented a tunnel entitled “Institutional Discrimination” which was based on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. She was a member of a group of passionate and motivated peers who organized a campus discussion about police brutality after the murder of Mike Brown, which resulted in a nonviolent die-in on campus. Alex believes her passion for juvenile justice reform has always been in her; her passion was ignited with the understanding that there is always a reason for behavior paired with a deeper understanding of the social inequities and institutional racism that has prevailed historically and currently throughout the entire system.


P1044181Sandy Lim
Sandy Lim is a Master of Social Work Candidate in the Social Change & Innovation department of USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, and in 2010 she graduated from CSU East Bay with her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, concentrating in Social Services. Since then, she has gained significant experience as a mental health counselor and teacher providing support to youth and families from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Last year, she fulfilled her internship with The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) where she helped develop and facilitate several support groups in addition to providing counseling to formerly incarcerated adults.

Sandy’s passion for juvenile justice/criminal justice reform stems from her personal experiences with the impacts of trauma on her family and extended family, in which she realized her deeper connection and purpose as a social worker – one who aims to help others identify ways of empowerment to enhance well-being through advocacy. The Juvenile InJustice Fellowship is the opportunity for Sandy to collaborate with others in bridging the gap between those making important decisions with those who are actually impacted by those decisions through storytelling and changing the culture around the system.


P1044212Maria Rivera
Maria is an Undergraduate student at California State University Northridge (CSUN), studying Sociology with an emphasis in Criminal Justice. Currently, she is employed as a secretary for a chiropractor’s office.  She stays involved through the Mentoring to Overcome Struggles And Inspire Courage (MOSAIC) program at CSUN.  The MOSAIC program allows her to provide mentorship to vulnerable youth in continuation school settings throughout LAUSD.

Growing up, Maria saw the negative impact gangs, guns, drugs, and domestic violence produced in her family. Due to this, her family never encouraged her to go to college; higher education was not expected in her family. She had to learn to deal with the constraints of poverty and lack of support.  She is doing the Juvenile InJustice Fellowship because she wants to help those who come from broken homes, who lack support systems, and who have limited opportunities to higher education.



Malaika Gillis
Currently, Malaika is a Master of Social Work (MSW) candidate in the department of Social Change & Innovation at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. In 2015, she graduated from University of California, Riverside with my Bachelor of Science in Sociology. This year she is interning at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in their Jails Project where she assists the Project Director in evaluating and monitoring local county jails for filing potential lawsuits, advocating for opportunities to reduce mass incarceration, and increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration.

She is doing the Juvenile InJustice Fellowship because she wants to continue to learn how to disturb the status quo of the juvenile justice system. She has witnessed friends enter the juvenile system and the negative effects that took place post-release. Therefore, she is taking this opportunity in hopes to implement policies for our youth, advocate for alternatives to youth incarceration and better access to resources and opportunities to develop our future leaders.



Talor Hawkins
Talor is doing the Juvenile InJustice Fellowship after a recent realization of her passion regarding the incarcerated population. This was through her capstone project titled “African American Men and the Risk Factors Theory.” She is a USC graduate student in her first year. Talor was a peer educator for three years in her undergraduate career. Her family members, on her dad’s side, are incarcerated or have been and she has seen the effects that have taken place negativity on them and her family.


P1044244Lawrence C. Dunbar II
Lawrence C. Dunbar II became interested in juvenile justice because he feels that he can relate to this population. He has personally served time in a juvenile delinquent facility. His past influence came from an African American social worker. She inspired Lawrence to give back to at-risk youth. His role in this movement is to provide hope for juveniles, impact positive change, and help youth to become contributing members of their communities. The change he would like to see is a drastic decrease in juvenile incarceration.



Mai-Lin Graves
Mai-Lin was inspired to do this fellowship through observing her older sister working on Rikers Island. She would inform her of all the injustices happening on the island which inspired her to do more research about the juvenile incarceration system, which implements a majority of the same tactics as adult prisons. Mai-Lin is a sophomore at UCLA, where she will major in World Arts and Culture and minoring in African American Studies and Civic Engagement. This past summer she was afforded the opportunity to work as a summer mentor for black students in high school taking a class on injustice in the United States education. She was also able to work as a Peer Learning Facilitator for a Comparative Literature class, where she had to create lessons and grapple with themes such as racism, inequality, and discrimination. It was through both of these jobs that she became connected to this fellowship by my boss.



Jorge Alvarez

As a Double-Major of Sociology and Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Northridge, Jorge has come to learn about the major incarceration problem in the United States. He has gained valuable leadership experience as a member of the CSUN Associated Students Internal Affairs Committee, a committee of the university’s student government that strengthens programs and services of the university. In addition, he is a writing tutor at CSUN’s Chicana/o Writing Center, as he believes in the notion of extending support to students who want better for themselves, yet struggle with academics. Growing up, Jorge witnessed many of his family members get incarcerated as youth due to the involvement of drugs and gangs. He learned that the activities that they were involved with had negative impacts on them, as they dropped out of high school and were unable to secure employment. Therefore, he is extremely excited to be collaborating with others who hold a same vision, as his passion is to serve youth who have not been given a second chance to succeed. Jorge believes in transformative and fair justice that will give our most vulnerable youth an opportunity to prevail.



Jessica BarreraP1044223










Natalie Joseph