Socialize With Us

Join CCJFG in Welcoming Our Newest Steering Committee Members

Friday, June 19, 2020

California Criminal Justice Funders Group is honored to welcome our newest Steering Committee members: Sergio Cuellar, Roger Perez, and Jasjit Singh. We are grateful for their experience and guidance in our work. Learn more about their work and lives below.

Sergio Cuellar, Program Manager, Sierra Health Foundation

Tell us about your background and what brought you to this work?

I am the son of Eusebio Cuellar Jr. and Reyes Cuellar, both from migrant farm worker families. Both were able to get out of the fields and into careers that supported them to serve their communities. My mother was a preschool teacher for 30 years and my father was an affordable housing advocate and elected official in Patterson, California serving as the city’s first Latino Planning Commissioner and City Council Member and later, served as a School Board Trustee. From a young age, my parents instilled in us the importance of giving back to and serving our communities and uplifting the voices of the voiceless. After graduating from California State University Fresno, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in U.S. History, I taught for 3 years at a continuation charter school working with opportunity youth. I later left the classroom to find ways to engage opportunity youth in more impactful ways without the constraints of our education system. I spent the next 7 years working with young people and training them to conduct Youth Participatory Action Research with Youth in Focus. This introduced me to a career path that married the ability to work with youth who society had written off, and through YPAR practice serving communities and giving voice to the voiceless. This work introduced me to the School to Prison Pipeline, the Criminalization of Communities of Color and has been the foundation to my life’s work.

What are the values that keep you grounded in the work?

First and foremost, love grounds me. The reminder that being able to love unconditionally opens up the opportunity to empathize, see joy and the pain in people, and forgive. Through my Catholic upbringing I have always been drawn the ability to forgive and understand that we are always better than our worst moment. Another value that grounds me connecting. I have grown to understand that my work has and will always be about connecting people to others. Being a connector allows me to support movements and people to grow, allows me to continue to learn, and uplift great work. 

What is strengthening you in this moment?

With all that is going on in this moment, I have been and continue to be strengthened by communities of color and the young people who lead in those spaces. The resilience and power we have seen in these most trying times gives me the strength to push harder from my place of influence to get these communities the resources they need and support the systems and policy changes that need to occur to move forward!

Roger Perez, Program Officer, Roy + Patricia Disney Family Foundation  

Tell us about your background and what brought you to this work?

Before my role at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, I worked with the Nonprofit Finance Fund as a strategic financial advisor for nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles and nationally. At NFF, I got an in-depth perspective of how nonprofit organizations fill the gaps in our broken social safety net and push for systems change. I came to the Foundation in an effort to help alleviate some of the detrimental public and private funding practices that hold nonprofits back, overly restrictive grants, unnecessary reporting requirements, as well as a dedication to the Foundation’s focus on civic empowerment over the three programmatic areas, Criminal Justice Reform, Affordable Housing Preservation, and Environmental Justice.  

What are the values that keep you grounded in the work?

The values that keep me grounded are empathy, curiosity, integrity,  and justice.

What is strengthening you in this moment?

COVID-19, continued police violence, systemic racism, and the unequal economic fallout stretching into late 2020 have highlighted the gaps in our unequal society. However, some individual and organizational practices keep me going – seeing community advocate for the health and safety of those in the criminal justice system and push to bring our community members home; how organizations are pouring support into community-wide mutual aid; and how multi-day demonstrations have sustained pressure on public officials to drive policy change and implement new practices. Multiple policy windows are open right now, and I believe that we have a chance, if we keep pushing, to make long-term progress.

Jasjit Singh, Program Officer, California ChangeLawyers

Tell us about your background and what brought you to this work?

I am a first-generation Sikh who was born in Punjab, and subsequently raised in California. We immigrated here in August of 1987 when I was 10 months old. From a young age I took a great interest in the history of the Sikh community, a history full of personal sacrifice. The work of CCJFG in dismantling the oppressive “justice” system is important to me because I’ve seen the effects of such institutions on my own community. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Indian Government through the proxy of police, military, and prison system used violent, inhumane, and illegal methods to counter a popular Sikh Freedom movement in the Sikh majority state of Punjab. Police were given unlimited powers, and under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activates Act, the police were able to detain individuals for up to one year without formal charges or trial, trials could be held secretly while also holding witness identities secret, and lastly the Act reversed the presumption of innocence to a presumption of guilt unless contrary evidence was proven. 

As a result, the Indian government through police, military, and the judiciary killed upwards of 250,000 Sikhs in this ten-year period. Many who escaped India and settled abroad refused to speak on the atrocities, which included torture, rape, and extrajudicial murders. I have seen how unchecked systems can have irreversible effects on minority communities, and I refuse to sit back and give history the opportunity to repeat itself in my own backyard.

What are the values that keep you grounded in the work?

The Sikh faith is built on the concept of Naam Japna (Meditating/contemplating on the name of the Almighty), Kirat Karni (Earn an honest living), and Vand Shakna (Share with others.) These are the pillars that keep me grounded on a daily basis. I am honored to join CCJFG, knowing that the work we do is honest, fulfilling, and truthful in its goal to create a better now and future. 

What is strengthening you in this moment?

Recent events in this country have brought national attention to the murderous racism being waged on the Black community. Born from these difficult moments however, we are now witness to an unprecedented level of activism and call to action from the Black community and all its allies. Seeing community collectively march in the streets, fight for justice, and demand change is beautifully inspiring. 

Find More By

News type