Rafeal Brown is a Training and Research Assistant at MILPA and is working on the Restoring Promise initiative. He was born in Dillon, South Carolina, and raised between the counties of Dillon and Bennettsville. At the age of 16, he was charged and sentenced to serve life in prison. After Serving nearly 27 years of that sentence, Rafeal has committed his time towards advocating for systemic change. Mr. Brown brings a comprehensive and unique perspective based on his direct experience while inside the system and has worked extensively with young adults in the leadership “unit” programs that he helped create, lead, and support. He is the third child of six siblings.
Airam Coronado is a mother and advocate who works as the Program and Leadership Assistant at MILPA. In this role, she facilitates cultural healing groups for young women of color to engage in practices of decolonization. As someone who navigated both the juvenile justice system and the foster care system, Airam is a community leader who brings her lived experience, storytelling, and cultural humility as her expertise. While she focuses on ending mass incarceration, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and building community people power, she draws her motivation from her son Aztlan, her incarcerated family members, and the countless youth who inspire her everyday.
Robert Daniels, Jr is the Program & Leadership Assistant at MILPA. Robert currently attends California State University, Monterey Bay, and is pursuing a B.A. in Accounting. He was raised in Seaside, California by his paternal grandparents, one of which is an African-American Vietnam war veteran and a post World War Two German immigrant, until the age of 12. Thereafter, the state of California reared him into adulthood. His mother is from Salinas, while his father was born in Germany, due to his grandfather’s military background. He enjoys legal work and number concepts, even though he is an environmentalist at heart. His free time is mainly encompassed in gardening and sustainable agriculture; he recently focused on local efforts to bring forth a community garden and revitalization project at Havana-Soliz Park
Keylin Figueroa is the Program and Media Assistant at MILPA. She is a Chicana Indigenous young woman raised in Riverbank, California. She transferred from Modesto Junior College to California State University, Monterey Bay, graduating in Humanities and Communications. She focuses on ending mass incarceration, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and building community people power, by using her creativity through media. Keylin enjoys creating art, watching baseball, and reconnecting with her culture.
Cristian Franco Jr is a proud father of a teenage son. He has spent 10 years training, coaching, and developing his son amongst other youth ages 10-16 in Baseball. He cares about young people having opportunities to develop the skills necessary in overcoming criminalization, poverty and disrupting the school to prison pipeline.
Mr. Franco Jr works regionally in the state, His work includes facilitating rights of passage circles for youth involved at the front end of the system (or on probation), in community schools, coaching and mentoring youth in California’s youth prisons (DJJ), and building the next generation of policy advocates and social justice leaders through the Next Generation Fellowship. His coaching of youth, advocating with partner justice policy groups, and his mentoring of young people involved with the criminal justice system demonstrate his niche expertise.
Though his own incarceration in youth prison as a teen, is a negative force that brings him to this work, the love he received from his family augments his motivation to be a force for social change, fighting against mass incarceration, and pushing for racial/ethnic equity through coaching and mentoring. The loss of his mother while he was incarcerated taught him the sanctity of family and fueled his passion for cultural healing for young people in the deep end of the system.
Bernard “Bernie” Gomez is a Program and Leadership Assistant at MILPA.
At a young age Bernie was exposed to the reality of a being Chicano in a disenfranchised community of campesinos. As a teen parent he was pushed out of school and into vicious cycle of addiction and criminalization.
He survived the prison industrial complex while becoming aware of the many layers of racism and structural inequities. At MILPA he has begun to walk with PALABRA in the effort to cultivate change makers, continue the fight for systemic change and reconnecting to his ancestral traditions.
Juan Gomez is a proud father to Rayo Tamoxtzin (Sacred Lightning Spirit Ray). In addition, he has dedicated his adult life to being a cultural broker, movement builder, spontaneous storyteller and barrio “community” scholar. He is the Co-Founder and Executive Director at MILPA. Juan works to build next generation leadership while supporting healing informed team building. Throughout his career Juan has provided technical assistance for various youth justice strategies and initiatives, where he co-created healing-informed capacity building, training and strategic facilitation. Juan has also gained valuable experience by working at The California Endowment on issues impacting Boys and Men of Color. Mr. Gomez aims to see a world without the need to arrest, detain, convict, or send people into the correctional system. Juan was raised by his grandparents Amelia and Ampelio and is of Coahuiltecan and Chicano indigenous descent.
Elias (Eli) Gonzales is currently the Training and Site Manager at MILPA. Through the Restoring Promise Initiative he works on national efforts that seek to disrupt, shrink and transform the working and living conditions within carceral settings. Eli is a proud father, son, brother and community member of Watsonville who is dedicated to creating circles and breaking cycles for all future generations.
He graduated from CSU Monterey Bay and brings years of experience in non-profit and civic collaboration with community, county and state-based agencies. His relationship building, cultural consciousness and communication background give him a unique facilitation skill primarily rooted in cultural healing and storytelling making his work accessible and effective for various stakeholders. He sits on the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission. His pride and joy are his children.
Edgar Ernesto Ibarra Gutierrez is the Leadership & Program Coordinator at MILPA. Mr. Ibarra facilitates leadership development and movement-building programs that encourage and support young people in their community and civic engagement while they work towards a future where the next generations can thrive with cultural pride, traditions, and dignity. He’s a Chicano Indigenous young man raised in the city of Watsonville by his mom and his three siblings. He is currently a 4th-year student at UC, Davis majoring in Communications, with aspirations to pursue a master’s degree in the future.
His focus is on strengthening the movement to end mass incarceration while building communications, leadership, and training infrastructure. Edgar enjoys reading books, participating in barrio scholarship with his friends and spending his time outdoors hiking, swimming, and exploring the beauty that nature has to offer. He is on the path to relearning his sacred indigenous traditions of songs, drums, and storytelling by staying close to the fire, honoring the water, and listening to the elders.
Cesar Lara is currently the Programs and Policy Director for MILPA. He was raised in Monterey County, California, and attended California State University, Chico to obtain his Bachelor’s Degree for International Relations.
Cesar Lara is very active on several statewide and local boards. Besides his role at MILPA, Cesar is also the Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council (MBCLC). Prior to MILPA, Cesar was the former Policy and Communications Director for Action Council’s Building Healthy Communities, East Salinas Initiative (BHC-ES), the former Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 890 and Director of the Central Coast Citizenship Project in East Salinas, California. Cesar was the State Director for the United Farm Workers’ Nonprofit, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), and a Congressional Aide to Congressman Sam Farr. Cesar is a proud father of 3 kids and the child of immigrant farm workers; immigrant rights and the needs of his community are a priority in his life.
James Martinez is a Social Justice Warrior who works towards transforming the justice system through policy reform. He is committed to reforming the current justice system because it does not heal our communities but rather dehumanizes them. Throughout his life, James has witnessed many injustices and developed a passion to pursue justice on behalf of the marginalized. He is currently working on pursuing his Degree in Philosophy with the goal of obtaining a law degree. In the future, James intends to use his Juris Doctorate to pursue Social Justice.
Daniel Mendoza is the Research and Program Coordinator at MILPA. For the past 6 years, his efforts have focused on ending mass incarceration, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, and building people & community power. Through advocacy and partnering with different Juvenile/Criminal justice stakeholders, he has influenced policy changes particularly around eliminating the practice of trying youth as adults, ending the use of solitary confinement for youth and improving reentry services for individuals post incarceration. Additionally, Daniel seeks to build up positive narratives about comrades who have been formerly incarcerated or system impacted.
Daniel graduated from the University of California, Davis where he majored in Chicano/a Studies. At UC Davis, he co-founded Beyond the Stats, a collective of formerly incarcerated and system impacted students working to dismantle structural barriers while navigating the UC system. Daniel enjoys hiking, watching stand-up comedy and spending time with family. Daniel grew up in Watsonville, California where he was raised by his single mother.
Veronica “Ronnie” Miramontes is MILPA’s Finance and Operations Manager, and her pronouns are she/her/ella. She lives in Monterey, California and acknowledges the land was first inhabited by the Ohlone Costanoan people. Her family roots are based in hardworking ranch life, past farmworker history and the impact of immigration policy. She continues to experience this impact with her husband; still, they raise their three children to break barriers with the generational honor living inside each of them.
Ronnie is a first-generation college graduate and received her B.A. in Human Communications, with a double concentration in Creative Writing/Social Action and Journalism/Media Studies from CSU, Monterey Bay. Ronnie currently serves as the FIRST elected Chicana/Latinx female Board Member for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) whose student population is over 59% Latinx. Ronnie’s professional experience delves deep into 10 years of nonprofit management and restorative justice practices. Ronnie enjoys staying busy and filling her empathic corazón to the brim. She has found her work-home here at MILPA.
Karina Moreno is the Program and Leadership Coordinator at MILPA. She is excited to be a part of the MILPA expansion into Watsonville, the city she was born and raised in. She has spent the last 9 years working in social change organizations looking to serve and advocate for change in the community she loves dearly.
While attending Cabrillo College, Karina learned first-hand about climate change and the disparities that small minority communities commonly face. This sparked the fire that would grow into her passion for protecting and giving back to her community. She hopes to utilize her skills to bring in opportunities for youth in her community to develop the skills necessary in overcoming criminalization, poverty, and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Karina volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a science mentor to local high school students. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, the Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission, and is a Freedom Rotarian. She also enjoys reading, painting en plein air, gardening, and blending her science education with indigenous wisdom.
Angela “Angie” Parks serves as a Finance and Operations Specialist and is working on the Restoring Promise initiative at MILPA. Angie brings forth an expertise and history of working with those who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Her lived experience within the carceral system is what informs her social change work and volunteerism. To date, Angie provides mentorship to women inside correctional settings in financial literacy and accountability coaching. Angie was part of the Next Generation Fellowship which focused on building up next generation leadership, policy advocacy, and seeding innovation through a racial justice and cultural healing framework.
She is currently a full time college student at Cypress College, majoring in Human Services with hopes of becoming a Social Worker. In addition, she is a mother of two grown kids, whom she has taught to fight for what they believe in and to always speak up. This sister enjoys doing anything outdoors, loves showing love through her cooking, and was taught by her father at a young age to embrace the land and how to live sustainably from it. Angie was brought up by her mother who is an immigrant from Seoul, South Korea and her father who has Cherokee roots and was raised in West Virginia; she was raised in Seaside, California until her teenage years and now resides in Southern California.
John Pineda is a proud father of 6 children. Born in Salinas and raised in Greenfield, he is an original MILPA co-founder. Mr. Pineda’s humbly and effectively serves as MILPA’s Deputy Director by supporting organizational operations, training, and management. His passion is working with formerly incarcerated individuals and system-impacted youth using La Cultura Cura – an indigenous cultural healing philosophy. Mr. Pineda also brings his unique skills of technical assistance and capacity-building to work in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice on Restoring Promise: A Young Adult Prison Reform Initiative. Through this role, he directly challenges mass incarceration and ethnic/racial disparities using a healing-informed cultural approach.
Desiree (Dez) Rosas is native to Monterey County and is currently a Program and Leadership Assistant, as well as a Prop 47 team member at MILPA. As someone who has been directly impacted by the system, Sister Dez has navigated her way through the justice and foster care systems. With her son by her side, Ms. Rosas has pushed through barriers. She enjoys mentoring future Change Makers through the programs provided at MILPA. Desiree strives to create change in the criminal justice system for her clients and the Next 7 Generations through her work while also providing record reclassification services to the community. Her role is to support those coming back from incarceration as they begin their reintegration process.
Josh Somers is a member of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, Auteca Pagume clan. Josh follows in the footsteps of activism, just as his father before him. He is a survivor of addiction, incarceration, and oppression. It is with this lived experience that he ventures into the work of Restoring Promise with the hope to provide a very unique and qualified perspective. Josh seeks to reach people who struggle in the face of oppression, in order to be an inspiration as well as an outlet for their voices. A voice that people in power should know matters. His belief is that this work to end mass incarceration is crucial for our black and brown relatives throughout the four directions.
Ofonzo “Zo'' Antonio Staton is a Training & Research Assistant on the Restoring Promise team at MILPA. Ofonzo is the eldest of three siblings born and raised in the small town of Bennettsville, South Carolina. He is a loyal friend and is very devoted to his family. On January 4, 1995 at the age of 17, Ofonzo became a statistic to what we know today as racial injustice. Faced with a felony murder charge that he did not commit, he was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison where he served 23 years and 27 days before his liberation in 2020. While inside, he was a mentor in the Restoring Promise Unit where he, along with 15 others, mentored young adults that were 18 to 25 years old. He knows all too well the injustices and cruelty faced by those in the system. His passion for change, equality, and social reform is what gives him the strength to keep the vision of MILPA at his forefront. Mr. Staton has a positive attitude focused on making a change that allows others to be positive in the face of adversity.
George Villa is the Restoring Promise Programs & Research Associate at MILPA. He is a former firefighter and currently doing his master’s program at UC, Davis in the Community Development Graduate Group. His motivation is to create safe spaces to support youth’s physical, spiritual, and emotional growth, particularly through culturally-rooted healing and physical fitness. George is a Co-Founder and Director of Team Villa Boxing Gym, a non-profit boxing gym in East Salinas that promotes community health and wellness by inspiring youth to believe in their individual and collective power to achieve both personal and systemic change for the benefit of themselves, their families, and communities as well as the next seven generations.
Most recently, he has joined a collaboration between MILPA and the Vera Institute of Justice called Restoring Promise, to radically transform the living conditions inside jails and prisons across the country with an initial focus on young adults. This includes doing research differently and through a non-traditional qualitative approach that honors the voice of incarcerated individuals. In his free time, George enjoys hiking, swimming, Crossfit, fitness coaching, and reading. He is also the proud uncle of local professional, World Champion boxer Ruben Villa IV. George is proud to have been born and raised in the heart of East Salinas.