Local volunteers search for ‘Beat Within’
“If I could create a venue for young people to tell their truth, share their art, we can all learn so much from them,” David Inocencio recalled thinking.
That was in 1996, a single workshop put in one city’s juvenile detention center. Today, “The Beat Within” has about 200 volunteers who operate in juvenile halls across the country — including Solano County.
The first beat
As a social worker at the public defender’s office in San Francisco, Inocencio spent most of his career advocating for youth.
“It was through that work … that I saw a real need for young people to have a voice,” Inocencio said.
Inocencio wanted to do more than just hear incarcerated youths’ stories — he wanted them to be their own storytellers.
He would hold workshops inside the detention centers, then collect whatever the students produced and try to get them published in newspapers.
Inocencio managed to get support from Sandy Close, executive director of Pacific News Service, who asked him to develop the program under the umbrella of the nonprofit news organization.
“Little did I know that relationship would last 18 years,” Inocencio said.
Inocencio piloted the still-nameless program inside San Francisco’s juvenile hall, known as the Youth Guidance Center, for nine months, holding workshops every week. After fielding continuous questions from the youth about where their writing was going, Inocencio realized they were not seeing the end results of their creations.
“I was hearing things that blew my mind, in how they were breaking the stereotypes that were so quickly placed upon them by the system, by the community,” Inocencio said.
Then in September 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas, marking a turning point for Inocencio’s fledgling organization.
“Young people were hit pretty hard by his death,” Inocencio said, recalling the outpouring of grief and art at his workshops.
Inocencio decided to collect all the art work and writing pieces and, rather than submitting it to various newspapers, publish them in a weekly black and white magazine.
The organization also got a name: The Beat Within. …
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