“The Pushouts” Premieres on VOCES | Thursday, December 26 at 10

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The Pushouts Premieres on VOCES

Thursday, December 26, 2019 on WOUB

The Inspirational Story of Dr. Victor Rios, Former Gang Member Turned Educator, Who Now Helps Struggling Students Stay in School

Winner of the 2018 Imagen Award for Best Documentary, “The Pushouts” is an inspiring story about the resilience of young people and how the support of caring adults offers hope. The film premieres on VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series.Directed by Katie Galloway and co-directed by Dawn Valadez, “The Pushouts” is part of American Graduate, public media’s long-term commitment, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), to help young people succeed in school, career and life.

“I was in prison before I was even born.” So begins the story of Victor Rios who, by age 15, was a high school dropout and gang member with three felony convictions. But when his best friend’s murder, a teacher’s quiet persistence and a mentor’s moral conviction converge, Rios is able to turn his life around.

student working on math probelm on white board
William, one of the young people at Yo! Watts, the Los Angeles youth center featured in THE PUSHOUTS

In 2013, Rios – by then a tenured University of California professor, award-winning author and national thought leader on the school-to-prison pipeline – gets an unexpected phone call from his former high school mentor, Martin Flores, whom he hasn’t spoken to in more than 15 years. Flores makes Rios an offer he can’t refuse: leading a summer program at YO! Watts, a youth center in South Central L.A. serving 16-24-year-olds who are out of school and out of work. “Thinking about Martin, how he was there when I needed that kind of support,” Rios recalls, “he was one of those people that saved my life!” Although the timing isn’t perfect and the pay non-existent, Rios heads down to L.A. with a team of protégé “super-mentors.”

While the young people at YO! Watts are often referred to as dropouts in national statistics and common parlance, many of these youth are trying to stay in school, but are being pushed or pulled to drop out. They are among the almost one in four Latino and Black students who do not graduate each year[i] and are pushed into continuation schools, low-paying jobs and, too often, the criminal justice and mass incarceration systems. Over the course of the summer, Rios and his team work to build a learning environment that will match the curiosity and determination of their students, while also grappling with the limits they themselves face as temporary figures in the lives of young people fighting significant systemic and structural barriers to success.

close up of female student
Dulce, one of the young people at Yo! Watts, the Los Angeles youth center featured in THE PUSHOUTS.

“The Pushouts” features footage  shot over more than 25 years, including a year in the life of Rios the teen gang member which was filmed during the making of the 1994 FRONTLINE documentary “School Colors,” and weaves Rios’s inspiring narrative with stories of the young people at YO! Watts. A then-and-now story of unusual intimacy and depth, the film trades narratives of tragedy and victimization for true stories of grit and resilience, highlighting the vast potential of young people to thrive when given access to meaningful opportunities and connections to adults who care.

“The Pushouts” director Katie Galloway, an Oakland native who went to public schools, describes the genesis of the project: “I grew up with the prison boom and most of my films have focused on the darkest aspects of the ‘justice’ and incarcerations systems. I wanted to tell a story with some good news — some hope. I learned of a young sociologist, a former gang member who by his early 20s was already doing remarkable work to challenge the school-to-prison pipeline. When I called Victor Rios and he told me he was headed to Watts for the summer to work with his own high school mentor and about 40 pushout youth, I knew it was a story I wanted to tell.”

‘The Pushouts’ is a film that moves beyond the often negative headlines about youth of color,” says Dawn Valadez, who joined the project as co-director and impact producer. “The film illuminates the unique potential of each young person, the importance of community solutions and care, the impact of strong teachers and mentors, and the power of quality education on the lives of the most vulnerable — yet often most resilient — young people.”

group shot of an LA gang posing
Victor Rios (first row, white hat) during his Oakland gang days. He is now a respected professor and author dedicated to helping young people succeed.

About Dr. Victor Rios

Dr. Victor Rios is Associate Dean of Social Science and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of five books including Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, Project GRIT: Generating Resilience to Inspire Transformation and Human Targets: Schools, Police, and the Criminalization of Latino Youth. Based on over a decade of research, Rios created Project GRIT (Generating Resilience to Inspire Transformation), a human development program that works with educators to refine leadership, civic engagement and personal and academic empowerment in young people placed at risk. He has worked with local school districts to develop programs and curricula aimed at improving the quality of interactions between authority figures and youths. Using his personal experience of living on the streets, dropping out of school and being incarcerated as a juvenile — along with his research findings — he has developed interventions for marginalized students aimed at promoting personal transformation and civic engagement. These programs have been implemented in Los Angeles, juvenile detention facilities and alternative high schools. Dr. Rios has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Oprah Winfrey Network and on NPR.  His TED Talk, “Help for kids the education system ignores,” has garnered over 1.3 million views.