As an advisory board member of Donna Hylton’s A Little Piece of Light, I was invited to attend the organization’s trip to touch base with their California partners. A Little Piece of Light is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower and facilitate healing for women, girls, and gender-fluid individuals who are directly impacted by trauma and involvement in the criminal justice system. Our flight was on time and we all settled in for the 6-hour trip. We were fully vaccinated and excited to be traveling again.
We arrived, and LaVell Baylor, Deputy Director for Freedom4Youth, was there to greet us. Freedom4Youth is an organization based in Santa Barbara, California and its mission is to empower youth in the juvenile justice system through education, self-realization, transformational leadership and community integration. She was bubbly, bright, and the best tour guide ever; she pointed out various sights and places we should see and provided some history about Los Angeles in context to the work she has been doing. So our luggage was packed in the car, and off we went. We heard a loud popping sound, and horns started honking. Still, we kept driving, oblivious to it until a passing car yelled out,“Your trunk is open!” So we stopped and ran out to find a woman rolling my luggage towards me. I thanked her profusely, and I made sure the trunk was locked. We had a good laugh.
The trip included a fantastic tour of a hydroponic garden plant, (unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures) with the desire to replicate, learning about, and incorporating a system at the offices in Brooklyn and California, where the clients can learn about sustaining our precious earth and growing produce to feed their communities.
I had a wonderful conversation with Aloe Blacc, singer and musician, as we sat by the beautiful mountains near his home. He has used his platform as an artist to address social issues and supports the work A Little Piece of Light is doing to bring awareness and change to criminal justice reform. Most people don’t know who he is, but he is a great artist. He has such a fantastic voice. I immediately felt warmth and love in his presence from listening to his calming soft-spoken words of encouragement and his easy demeanor. “When things happening in the world seem so terrible and dark, it’s so easy to get stuck in all the negative,” he says. “But I try to do whatever I can to help people out of that. I want my music to be the light.”
Robin Barkins, who is the California component of A Little Piece of Light, met with us at our lodgings. Ms. Barkin is a fearless and outspoken peer advocate. Every day, Ms.Barkins embraces her mission to empower the reentry population and the women and men who suffer from the diseases of trauma, addiction, and HIV.
Her transformative journey began at the tender age of fifteen when she was diagnosed with HIV. Upon receiving this devastating news, she spiraled into self-destructive activities as a sex worker and substance abuser. She thought her life was over. When she hit the lowest point in her life, she found herself spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. After ten years, she finally decided to attend a drug recovery program.
Ms. Barkins never thought it was possible to live a life without drugs and alcohol, but with her fierce determination to improve her life, she began to face her emotional injuries and fears head-on. In the process of becoming sober, she learned new coping skills and strategies to deal with life. Finally, with a brand-new lease on life, Ms. Barkins regained her confidence and cultivated healthy self-esteem.
In 2010, Ms. Barkins chose to go public with her story because she knew that her journey could impact other people’s lives. For so long, Ms. Barkins kept her HIV status a secret. By telling her story, she seized her power back. Currently, Ms. Barkins is a Peer Re-Entry Community Health Worker at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center. She manages the cases of individuals coming out of jail or prison and prepares them to reenter society. She follows the Whole-Person Care Model to prioritize her client’s health and mental and social well being. Through her work, she provides her clients with the supportive tools and resources to reenter society effectively.
Ms. Barkins’ story allows her to empathize with her clients. It encourages her to advocate for the HIV community, those afflicted by trauma/domestic violence, drug addiction, and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Our journey would not be complete if we couldn’t visit Joshua Tree’s indigenous lands. We prepared for the day with a prayer and dressed in all white to honor and respect our ancestors and the land. We smudged sage and said prayers of thanksgiving for those who walked this earth before and those to come. Our gratitude for surviving this world and coming out strong.
Of course, we took a few hours to go to DisneyLand, where my 17-year-old self emerged as did others while we enjoyed the day going on kiddie rides, eating ice cream, candy, and acquiring our official ears.
A Little Piece of Light is a new 501(c)3 organization making great strides in the fight to tackle the issues women, girls, and those who hold fluid identities face before, during, and after incarceration. I am honored to be a part of the process. There is much work to be done and they are shining a beacon to guide the way with a little piece of light.