Robert is a first-generation college student who was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. When Robert was in ninth grade his father died of cancer, resulting in him dropping out of high school and leaving home. Shortly after his father’s death, Robert moved to Watsonville California where he struggled to find long term employment and as a direct result began getting in trouble with the law. In jail he witnessed racial segregation and racism first hand, and from this experience learned about the lack of social justice in California jails and prisons.
Once Robert was released from jail he started working with formerly incarcerated students in the Learning Communities at Cabrillo College where he performed extensive work volunteering as a Student Support Facilitator for the Academy for College Excellence (ACE). His project with BUS involves visiting community colleges, doing class presentations, and student recruitment at Cabrillo College, Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, and Contra Costa College.
Clarence Ford transferred to UC Berkeley in 2014 from Contra Costa Community College. As an undergrad at Cal he majored in American Studies with a concentration in Ethnicity, Law, and Public Policy. He joined the Underground Scholars shortly after arriving and was appointed as one of the two leads for policy advocacy. The mission of the USI policy team is to identify and abate policy issues that pose as barriers to formerly incarcerated individuals. In 2016 they successfully advocated that the University of California, Berkeley Human Resource Department implement a fairness-in-hiring policy, which postpones conviction inquiry until later on in the hiring process. This mitigates employment discrimination against those who may have made mistakes in the past that resulted in conviction. We are in the process of working to get his policy/practice adopted across all UC’s. Clarence is now a first year Master’s Candidate at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, where he focuses in criminal justice policy.
Mark is a senior in the Anthropology Department. He is from Oakland, CA and identifies as formally incarcerated. After a year long drug rehabilitation program he began his lower division undergrad course work at Peralta Colleges in Oakland and transferred to Cal in 2015. Mark believes that having a community and support therein provides the basic needs that help one succeed in a rigorous academic environment; Berkeley Underground Scholars is such a community.
He works with currently incarcerated men to help them apply to Berkeley. He assists by reviewing theirs transcripts and advising them on different aspects of the application.
Caleb was born on the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Reservation in Arizona. He is currently pursuing a Political Science degree, and subsequently, pursuing a joint degree in Public Policy and Law. He was raised in several inner city neighborhoods that were rife with crime, and became witness to and directly experienced social inequality and injustice and spent much of his adolescence and early adulthood trapped in the cycle of incarceration.
He currently works as the Lead Transfer and Outreach coordinator for the Underground Scholars Initiative. In his work with the community Caleb focuses on increasing the presence of Native Americans, student parents and formerly incarcerated people in higher education.
Lara is a third year student studying Holistic Medicine and Mental Health for Low-income Communities. She has always had a strong passion for educating and empowering communities of color, system impacted youth, currently/previously incarcerated folks, refugees, homeless folks and survivors. For years, Lara has mentored youth and also currently runs her own health and wellness website called Thoughts of a Lotus, which provides information on how to avoid toxic foods, products and behaviors and choose affordable, accessible and healthier holistic alternatives.
Lara’s humanitarian traits blossomed from her wounds as a survivor of sexual assault, emotional abuse, a traumatic childhood, and being a womxn of color.
She is currently working with USI by assisting with internal administration and data analysis.