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.
Graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Psychology, Carmen became an advocate for young men and women, providing comprehensive leadership training and opportunities for individuals in and out of the criminal justice system. She 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, dedicated to improving gender-specific services to better support all girls. Additionally, she created the “Youth Summit” concept where young people came together to discuss solutions to serious topics such as drug and alcohol reform, detention alternatives, gangs, and violence. Recommendations that came out of group discussions were often presented and adopted by community and statewide policy makers throughout California.
In 2002, Carmen went to work for Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos, 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. Three years later, Carmen met Harry Belafonte, a man who would influence the next decade of her life. Mr. Belafonte had just founded The Gathering for Justice and was organizing huge masses of marginalized communities in non-violent settings across the country. He invited Carmen to become part of The Gathering; she served both organizations while continuing to build 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 where she developed programs and re-entry services for young women in the juvenile justice system. She looked critically within the system to reduce racial disparities and advocated for Spanish-speaking families. During this time, she helped implement gender-specific services that incorporated sexual trauma counseling through art therapy, teen/parent mediation, and eventually co-founded an evening program for girls called Girlzpace.
Carmen became the National Organizer of The Gathering for Justice in 2008, and two years later was promoted to Executive Director. Carmen’ s involvement with The Gathering provides increased capacity and coalition building to the organization's targeted US cities to bridge the gap between government institutions, emerging & non-traditional leaders, and inner city youth. 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. She has organized cultural, spiritual and educational events and provided support to individuals incarcerated in juvenile detention centers and inside prisons.
After relocating to New York in 2011, she 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 is currently on the Boards of Directors for Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos and the Scholar League in Brooklyn, New York, as well as a member of the Advisory Board of The Baltimore City Youth Resiliency Institute. She is co-founder of The Brain Trust, and recently co-founded Justice League NYC, an initiative of the Gathering For Justice.
Carmen has been featured on several TV programs and in numerous articles. She 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, California for her contribution and dedication to bringing hope to incarcerated men. In May 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. In 2014, she participated in the Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voices Class of 2014.