Carmen Perez, Executive Director

Carmen Perez has been an activist nearly her entire life.  After the death of her 19 year-old sister when she was just 17, Carmen began to restore herself by dedicating her life to transforming the lives of young people. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Psychology in 2001, Carmen was dedicated to the pursuit of advocating for young men and women, and providing comprehensive leadership training and opportunities for individuals in and out of the criminal justice system.  

Her work in Santa Cruz became well-known in the community and across the country.  Carmen is the founder of the youth leadership group R.E.A.L. (Reforming Education, Advocating for Leadership) and Co-Founder of The Girls Task Force, which is dedicated to improving gender-specific services to better support all girls in our communities.  She created and supported the “Youth Summit” concept where young people came together to discuss solutions on serious topics such as drug and alcohol reform, detention alternatives, gangs, and violence. Recommendations that came out of the group discussion were often presented and adopted by community and state-wide policy makers throughout California

In 2002, Carmen went to work for Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz – an organization dedicated to providing non-violence training and re-entry services for the incarcerated, and establishing an Institute for peace and community development in Santa Cruz and across the country.   In 2005, while working for Barrios Unidos, Carmen met the man who would influence the next decade of her life – Harry Belafonte.  Mr. Belafonte was forming The Gathering for Justice, and was organizing huge masses of marginalized communities in non-violent settings across the country – and he invited Carmen to be a part of it.  Through her work at Barrios Unidos, and a member of The Gathering, Carmen served both organizations while continuing to build her own programs focused on young girls and youth justice.  In 2006, Carmen went to work for the Santa Cruz County Probation Department as a bilingual Probation Officer. With an all-female intensive caseload, Carmen worked tirelessly to provide appropriate programs and re-entry services for young women in the juvenile justice system.

In 2008 Carmen became the National Organizer of The Gathering for Justice and in 2010 she was promoted to Executive Director of the organizer.  As Executive Director of The Gathering, Carmen has crossed the globe promoting peace, interconnectedness, and alternatives to incarceration and violence while collaborating in national policy presentations.   In 2011, after moving her base of operations to New York, Carmen was tapped to help develop Purple Gold, a young worker’ s program that engages and cultivates the membership of 1199SEIU’s 35-and-under members, while setting the future for the Labor Movement. For two years she directed Purple Gold’s operations and program development across the boroughs of New York City.

Carmen has been featured on several TV programs and in numerous articles, and is the 2008 recipient of United Way’s “Community Hero Award,” and Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission “Trailblazer’s Award in Criminal Justice.”  She was presented a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community, and received the “Zaragoza Award” from the Committee for the Mexican Culture at D.V.I. Prison in Tracy, for her contribution and dedication to bringing hope to incarcerated men.  In May of 2014, she had the opportunity to share her life’s work and delivered her 1st TEDx Talk inside Ironwood State Prison hosted by Richard Branson and produced by Scott Budnick. She has recently been accepted into the Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voices Class of 2014.