Alumna Carmen Perez returns to campus as Chavez Convocation keynote speaker

Perez is known widely as an expert in juvenile and criminal justice, and system accountability.

While working at Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz, Carmen Perez met Harry Belafonte who encouraged her to join his new organization The Gathering for Justice. In 2010, she became its executive director.

UC Santa Cruz alumna Carmen Perez returns to campus as keynote speaker for the 13th annual Cesar Chavez Convocation scheduled for Wednesday, May 18, 7–9 p.m. at the College Nine/Ten multipurpose room. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The convocation is free and open to the public and honors the memory of Cesar Chavez, his achievements, commitment to social justice/civil rights, unrelenting efforts to cultivate grassroots leadership, and successful formation of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).

Perez is executive director of New York-based The Gathering for Justice, founded in 2005 by Harry Belafonte to build a movement to end child incarceration and work toward the elimination of racial inequities in the criminal justice system that lead to mass incarceration.

After the death of her 19-year-old sister when she was 17, Perez began dedicating her life to creating programs and initiatives that would help transform the lives of young people. She’s been an activist ever since.

After studying at UC Santa Cruz, she worked for Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz, dedicated to providing non-violence training and re-entry services for the incarcerated. In 2005, she met Belafonte,  as he was forming The Gathering for Justice and organizing marginalized communities in non-violent actions across the country.

Belafonte invited Perez to join. She served both organizations while continuing to build her own programs focused on young girls and youth justice. In 2006, Perez became a bilingual probation officer with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. With an all-female intensive caseload, she worked to provide appropriate programs and re-entry services for young women in the juvenile justice system.

In 2008, she became national organizer of The Gathering for Justice and two years later was named executive director. In November 2013, she founded Justice League NYC, a task force of juvenile and criminal justice advocates, experts, artists, and formerly incarcerated individuals brought together to build “Growing Up Locked Down” (GULD) a three-day juvenile justice conference.  

Perez is recognized as an expert in juvenile and criminal justice, and system accountability, and has been featured widely in the media. She recently testified as a criminal and juvenile justice reform expert before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

She was selected as Chavez Convocation keynote speaker for her efforts in pursuing justice during a time of escalating injustice. Previous convocation speakers have been Barrios Unidos co-founder Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez (2015); Cesar Cruz, co-founder and assistant dean at the Harvard University Secondary School Program, (2014); UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta (2013/2004); Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas (2012); Father Gregory Boyle, executive director of Homeboy Industries (2011); María Hinojosa, journalist, managing editor of Latino USA (2010); Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center (2009); performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña (2008); Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, (2007); United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez (2006); and Luis Valdez, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker and director, (2005).

The Cesar Chavez Convocation is presented by the College Ten Co-Curricular Programs Office and The Chicano Resource Center (El Centro), and the Dean of Students Office. It  is co-sponsored by Community and Resource Empowerment (e2); American Indian Resource Center; African American Resource and Cultural Center; Asian American Resource Center; Lionel Cantu Queer Resource Center; Women's Resource Center; College Eight Senate; Porter College Senate; Oakes College Senate; Crown College Senate; Stevenson College Senate; College Nine Senate; College Ten Senate; and Cowell College Senate.