Now 23, Joshua Ham helped define what it means to be a Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition youth leader at the tender age of 15. When he wasn't making people smile or laugh, he was making people—especially people in positions of power—listen. His powerful description of his high school's in-school suspension program, run by a former prison guard, resonated with his peers, got the attention of decision-makers and helped to bring about its immediate closure.
He told the California Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color about his everyday reality at Manuel Arts High School—police cars out front, security guards at the gate, helicopters circling overhead.
When Josh joined the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition at 15, he was a good student but had received a three-day suspension for talking in class. He didn't have a father at home, and he drew inspiration and strength from Coalition's adult organizers and coaches.
"At that retreat in Big Bear where we all came together for the first time, and at our monthly gatherings at the Japanese American Museum or Southern California Library or Long Beach LGBT Center and other spots in the community, I was able to see that students at other schools and from different backgrounds experienced some of the same issues," Josh says. "Learning that we had these common struggles in spaces that allowed us to also learn more about our own and other cultures is one the things that made BSS special to me."
Men of color in roles as organizers and mentors also helped Josh define masculinity on his own terms. "Not having a pops at home but having positive Black men around me in BSS that went to school and had their stuff together...it was powerful and helped me become who I am today."
Today, Josh works for the L.A. Unified School District and proudly tells people that he helped create and pass the School Climate Bill of Rights displayed on district office and school walls. He says that one skill he learned as a BSS participant is patience. "That stuff took work, meetings, and positive energy to remain focused on the task at hand in order to make sure that the policy was not just passed but implemented right."