Scholar Awardee – Michael Griggs
My name is Michael Griggs, I am a 31-year-old Latin American, nontraditional aged college student and criminal justice reform advocate living in Southern California, and for six years of my life, I was recognized by the California Department of Corrections solely as inmate number AE3686.
For six years of my life, I was identified by the state of California by that alphanumeric number, and admittedly there was a time in my life when I believed that’s all I would be. My life, it’s meaning and worth equated with that of a receipt or a bar code in the well-oiled machine of mass imprisonment, spitting out numbers more frequently than an ATM or cashier giving receipts.”. I am however much more than what that mixture of letters and numbers represents, and I am much more than the former labels mentioned. Today I am learning and embracing that I am multifaceted, and to label myself in such terms diminishes the complex nuances of the intersectional identities I hold. For it is in those differences, and intersectionality’s I hold lies my most powerful tool for effecting social change, the ability to work across coalitions of difference.
Like many of those interested in forwarding a specific social conflict issue, my early motivation for doing so stemmed in large part because of my own personal experience. While these desires still motivate me today, I am finding the more introspection I do, I am learning new and more complex reasons why I remain involved. Tessa Hicks-Peterson a mentor and friend of mine says “Cultivating critical awareness of self and others through introspection and community engagement can thus result in profound shifts in understanding of both social biases and interconnectedness” Thus, critical awareness has come hand in hand with my maturity as an activist and my understanding of social injustice. The more I became critically conscious of the larger social and political contexts of the injustices I faced in my community and other communities, not like mine, the more empowered I became to affect change from “the inside out” as someone who was labeled as part of “the problem” to the desire to become part of the solution. Thus, I believe the hardest parts of my story are just as important as my greatest achievements. Thirteen years ago, I was a teenager who struggled with substance abuse, gang involvement, and illicit behavior. Today I am an activist, youth mentor, member of my community, a board member of the Miguel Contreras Foundation, and a proud graduate of Pitzer College with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Justice.