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A group of former federal and state prison inmates in Fayetteville, N.C. have come together to host a youth summer camp called “Torchlight Summer Camp.”

Inspired and spearheaded by former Federal Prison inmate, and now motivational speaker and workshop developer of the non-profit organization PROJECT 2ND CHANCE, Larry Rivera’s camp targets all young Black and Hispanic teenagers whose lives are at risk of being snuffed out by a corporate business model profiting off of the head count in the Federal Prison Industry.

“This is by design. I wasn’t the general at risk youth. I graduated from high school in the eleventh grade. I was a two time gold medalist at the Junior Olympics in Tae Kwon Do. By the time I was 15 years old I was training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. My first real opportunity to commit a serious crime was offered to me when I was 17 years old by a crooked cop on my college campus. It turned out to be the worse decision I could have ever made, but I lived with my decision and told the Federal Judge that they might have my body, but never will they have my mind.”

After being sentenced to 10 years and three months to a Federal Prison, Larry Rivera now 40-years-old, says he witnessed a wicked plot unfolding.

“I never sold crack cocaine. I was a street gun dealer. When I saw the thousands of young Black men with boat loads of time for small amounts of crack cocaine, I couldn’t believe this was America. I had the slightest idea their was a such thing as a ‘’100-to-1’’ law for crack/powder cocaine. It was heartbreaking. I vowed that once I was released from prison, I was going to dedicate my life to educating the youth about the schemes, plots and traps laid for young Black and Hispanic men so that a select few could benefit and profit off of our suffering and ignorance.”

Larry Rivera was so determined to make a change that he and a few other inmates captured the attention of Dr. Benjamin Chavis while serving time at FCI at Manchester, Kentucky.

“They mailed a packet to me called Project Exodus for Prisoners (P.E.P.).  Once I read it, I felt compelled to visit the brilliant minds who formulated the idea to release non-violent inmates with draconian sentences to an African country that would except them to help build their nation,” says Dr. Benjamin Chavis who was recently pardoned by former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue.

Now that a few of these same inmates are free, he will be attending their five day camp which will be honoring and awarding Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin with the “Torchlight Youth Award” on June 27, 2013, for their accomplishments with educating the youth through the “Hip Hop Summit.” NASA pioneer, Katherine G. Johnson’s signed portrait will be given to the Hip Hop Summit founders at the camp.

“The man (Pap) who raised me for the last 33 of my 40 years, Joe Rivera, started a non-profit organization called Project 2ND Chance. After serving 22 years in the military, he vowed along with me to enlighten our young Black and Hispanic men and women. Even though I made a terrible life changing decision, he along with my mother supported me. How can I know what is going on in the Federal Prison Industry and not speak out? I cried when I walked out of prison not because I was happy to be coming home, but because I knew that the solution to many of our young boys and girls problems were in prison serving unfair sentences for small amounts of crack cocaine. You have the music industry, the movie industry and the Prison Industry. Our youth know everything about two of these but know very little about the one they are most likely to become a part of. Who else could better prepare them for the future than those who experienced both sides,” Rivera said.

August 3, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the crack-cocaine sentencing bill into law, reducing the disparity in mandatory minimum sentences. FAMU student, Joseph Frazier was sentenced to 27 years in 1994 for crack cocaine. Also, responsible for formulating “Project Exodus for Prisoners” he was released after serving 18 years in Federal Prison. Joseph Frazier states:

“If President Obama did not sign this into law, I wouldn’t be attending Torchlight Summer Camp freshman appearance in the community. I believe that the most qualified people capable of influencing our young African-American boys and girls out of a degenerative lifestyle and back into a positive way of thinking and living are the very ones who lived the life, not the ones rapping about it. I have been home a little over a year now, and the influence I have had over my own family is unprecedented. I have my own business and I am a good man to my woman. My son was 6 months old when I went to prison. There are many more disciplined African-American men and women with long, unfair sentences that could make a world of a difference in our community.”

Recently, a coalition of over 175 artist, actors, athletes, elected officials and advocates, brought together by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, presented an open letter to President Obama, suggesting that the President include extending the Fair Sentencing Act to all inmates who were sentenced under the 100-to-1 crack/cocaine law, supporting the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate), and supporting the Youth Promise Act.

“I applaud Dr. Boyce Watkins and Russell Simmons for being a Torchlight in this movement,” says Rivera. “Who can turn a deaf ear to a plea for justice?”

You can support Torchlight Summer Camp by visiting www.project2ndchance.org 

-Franklin Chavis

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