A high school senior in Irvine, California, has grown increasingly passionate over the past several years about tackling the inequalities embedded in the justice system throughout the U.S.
Arush Mehrotra, a senior at University High School in Irvine, began his journey when he first read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
“With every turn of a page, I was struck with a sense of disbelief by the policing and judicial injustices being committed en masse,” the Indian American student said in a press release. “In particular, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that laws like the ones establishing the crack vs. cocaine sentencing disparity were enacted by our Congressional legislature.”
Upon realizing that many of these problems exist outside of mainstream public consciousness, Mehrotra sought to put a spotlight on the criminal justice reform agenda.
He began to write opinion articles in his school newspaper about topics like cash bail, private prisons, the death penalty, and more.
“It was my quest to generate broader understanding and hope for finding solutions,” he said.
Mehtrotra has published articles in local news outlets and also started a podcast titled “Unjustified.”
Seeing the impact that his journalistic advocacy had in sparking a conversation on these issues, he was inspired to do more.
“In the winter of my junior year, I had the idea to create a platform whereby youth like me had an opportunity to increase the depth of their civic engagement and become involved with the community around them,” he said. “That platform materialized itself into my nonprofit organization: the OC Justice Project.”
The OC Justice Project, which currently spans seven high schools in Irvine and Tustin, has three main goals: increase awareness about justice-related topics, raise funds to directly support marginalized community members, and inspire community involvement through political advocacy work, a release said.
In the month of June, the OC Justice Project, which can be followed @ocjusticeproject on Instagram, hosted a roundtable discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The forum was attended by 30 local community members generating an engaging discussion with participants sharing their viewpoints and personal experiences on topics like police brutality, the poverty cycle, the prison industrial complex and more.
“We have an active presence on social media platforms and post concise infographics about relevant issues,” he explained. “We recently launched a fundraiser inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in which we raised over $1000 and sold over 50 shirts to individuals from all across Orange County.”
The OC Justice Project will be donating the proceeds to causes like the Youth Justice Coalition in LA which works to support at-risk youth and abolish the school to prison pipeline.
With the importance of this year in terms of the elections, the nonprofit is currently creating a voter guide to better inform Orange County residents of both local and state elections and setting up town halls with local political candidates to promote voter engagement, the release said.
Over the course of the last few months, the OC Justice Project has grown to symbolize more than just a community of individuals simply interested in social justice; it stands for the power that each and every one of us holds to make a difference in the lives of others, it said.
“We are very encouraged by the engagement and support we have got,” Mehrotra said. “We will keep working tirelessly for a society fair and just, where the words ‘equal justice for all’ are no longer an idealistic statement, but a reality.”