Michelle Diaz

Fortune’s Michelle Diaz – “The Hat Changer” – Named To Annie E. Casey Youth Advisory Council

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fortune Society clients who are now allowed to wear their hats inside the Agency can thank Michelle Diaz who was instrumental in changing the “no hats” rule that had been in place for many years.

Michelle, who has never been afraid to speak her mind, was dismayed at hearing how much her fellow clients disliked the rule which she thought unfair and “disrespectful.” And so she and her classmates brought their PowerPoint presentation to Fortune’s Senior Executive Team which was impressed by her arguments and moved by her and her classmates’ passion. In the end, they agreed to drop the rule.

Michelle hopes to bring that same passion to the newly formed Youth Advisory Council of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group (JJSG). She applied in February and was accepted last week as one of only two young New Yorkers named as members. The prestigious appointment means that she will travel to Baltimore on Friday, April 17th to meet for the first time with the 14 Youth Advisory Council members who will work in partnership with the JJSG and establish bylaws based in part on the group’s strategic goals, budget, and staff capacity.

“Few know the juvenile justice system better than youths who have been directly involved in it,” says a Foundation spokesperson, “and their voices should be a part of reform efforts.”

Indeed, Michelle hopes to “make a change in the crime and poverty cycle,” she says. “So many people become incarcerated, are released, and then are sent back to prison. We young people are the future and we need to make a difference.”
When she heard of her appointment, Michelle recalls not believing it. “I was completely shocked,” she says.

But Fortune VP Stanley Richards wasn’t. “I have had the pleasure of witnessing Michelle’s dedication and hard work as a student in our Young Adult Literacy program,” he says. “Michelle challenges the status quo. She believes in justice and equality, and isn’t afraid to voice her opinion and work toward a change that will be beneficial to all involved.” Recalling her efforts to change Fortune’s “hat rule,” Richards admits that he now refers to Michelle as “The Hat Changer.”

Michelle and her fellow members, who will serve two-year terms, will review materials, draft and edit reports and presentations, conduct field research and participate in professional development activities and email discussions. For their work, they will each receive stipends of up to $875 for work completed during or between the meetings, and travel costs will be covered.

“I have no doubt that Michelle will be an asset to the program,” says Parvoneh Shirgir, her teacher at Fortune. “She has a true dedication to justice and has already demonstrated her ability to create positive change in her community. I believe she will thrive as a member of the Youth Advisory Council and I look forward to seeing her accomplishments.”

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