Roosevelt University Graduate

McElrath-Bey’s transformation is so profound it could have been crafted by TV execs as an after-school special...Matthew Fleischer, TakePart.com

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Chance for Change

Xavier McElrath-Bey is a champion for the human rights of incarcerated children. Through his work as the Senior Advisor and National Advocate of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Xavier fights to abolish “life without parole” for children in America; and, in recent years, he played a role in ending this practice in several states—including Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota. He is also a co-founder and proud member of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), an initiative of CFSY, which seeks to amplify the stories and voices of leaders who were incarcerated as youth.

  

While living in dire poverty on the south side of Chicago, Xavier’s mother and brother contended with untreated schizophrenia and depression, and his stepfather was a violent and abusive alcoholic. At age 11, Xavier ran away from his volatile home life and joined a gang. That same year, he almost died when his best friend shot him in the face by accident; and, in no time, he had accumulated 19 arrests and 7 convictions for mostly violent offences. At age 13, while on the run from the child welfare system and sleeping in abandoned buildings, Xavier was involved in the gang-related murder of Pedro Martinez—another youth in his community. Xavier was charged “as an adult” and sentenced to 25 years.  

 

While growing up in prison, Xavier became increasingly remorseful of his past actions and decided to change for the better. Hopeful of someday living a “normal life”, Xavier prepared himself by earning an Associate in Arts and an Associate in General Education from Carl Sandburg College; a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Roosevelt University; and multiple certificates, including in Computer Technology. Xavier was also inducted into the Franklin Honor Society for "outstanding scholarship".

 

In 2002, after serving 13 years, Xavier was released at age 26.

While volunteering as a YMCA youth boxing coach and working as a Starbucks barista, Xavier pursued a Master of Arts from Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services Program. He graduated with honors in 2006, and, since then, he has worked in violence prevention, youth counseling, juvenile diversion, clinical research, and, now, youth advocacy and sentencing reform. Prior to his current position with CFSY, Xavier worked for Northwestern University’s Health Disparities & Public Policy program—where he assessed the mental health needs and outcomes of over 800 formerly incarcerated youth for a longitudinal study.

Today, Xavier is prolific speaker and staunch advocate who has inspired countless audiences to be reform-minded advocates for the most vulnerable children in our society. Many media and news outlets, including New York Times, Chicago Tribune, PBS NewsHour, and Huffington Post, have captured Xavier’s advocacy efforts; and, in recent times, he was a 2018 Justice Roundtable Excellence Award recipient. Although Xavier’s life has changed dramatically since he was a child in the justice system, it wasn’t until 2016, when he met Pedro’s family in a restorative justice healing circle, that he truly felt free from his troubled past. That day, Pedro’s family forgave him and encouraged him to continue his work.

In his powerful TEDx Talk, titled “No Child is Born Bad”, Xavier reminds all of us that no child should ever receive a “death in prison” sentence; that all children, including those who have made horrible mistakes, have the capacity for positive change.