In this episode, I talk with David Inocencio from The Beat Within. David talks about his upbringing and how he always thought he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a photographer, but instead in the late 1980s and early 90s that he found that he wanted to do something different and give back to the community in some ways.
It was just the beginning of the gangster rap and crime rates were climbing in San Francisco and across the States and people were learning about it through music like Public Enemy and Ice Cube. David decided he wanted to make a change and was going to become a social worker and work with young people.
He got a degree in social work and became a youth advocate working with young people in the community and those in custody, but it was doing this work where he noticed the voices of these young people. He was able to talk with them and have a human to human connection and some of the young people started opening up to him and sharing their journals and stories with him. At that stage there was nowhere to share these stories. But he wanted to create a platform to give them a voice.
He talked about what he did in order to stay working in juvenile hall and connecting with the young people. In January 1996 he knew that he wanted to stay connected to young people in detention and wanted to create a program for the young people in detention. They said, ‘when do you want to start?’
In mid-September 1996 Tupac was murdered and all the young people were devastated by his death and he asked them to write about it. The writing was incredibly powerful and he knew he had to do something with it and that was the birth of The Beat Within.
From that point on he has committed the last 22 years of his life to giving a voice to young people who feel like they don’t have a voice.
It has grown beyond San Francisco and is a publication that has been incorporated into schools, community organisations, with adults in the adult system, and young people in juvenile halls and the community. He gets about 500 to 600 letters a month from people who have come across the writing or past writers who want to share their stories.
Young people are grouped in different pods in each juvenile halls. The workshops last for one hour and the young people who are present need to participate in the writing workshop. Young people are encouraged to be vulnerable and share with people in the groups. Sometimes they will use a quote as well as prompts to get people to think and expand on these. From the conversations the young people are encouraged to pick one topic to write on. Some young people will use their first names or they can use a pen name. At the end of the program some people will read their work aloud and that is always a highlight of the program. People telling stories in this way allows them to be heard and to process things they have gone through.
The Beat Within has had an impact on this in juvenile halls as well as those leaving them and entering the community. Former writers are so willing to give back when they get out and they want to be able to stay connected. There are many obstacles for those when they get out and they need to figure out how to stay out of the system, make money and support their family.
There were some challenges with publishing the content initially because some of the writing was so dark. Today, every piece that is published receives some feedback and a response to it from the editor and those running the program. David believes that everyone deserves to be heard and The Beat Within gives young people a chance for this to happen and to make their lives better.
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