By Marquis Lawson | Special To The OBSERVER

After Serving 25 years, Rodney Pope changed his life around through the Equity Initiatives Program at Highlands Community Charter and Technical Schools. Highlands Community Charter opened up a new site in Oak Park last week. Marquis Lawson, OBSERVER

Rodney Pope, a former inmate with a desire to rehabilitate, completely turned his life around after earning early release in 2021 after serving 25 years, eight months and four days for kidnapping and attempted robbery. Given the nature of life post-incarceration, one might ask: how do you even begin to overcome those social obstacles and barriers?

Pope, 45, started over at the Highlands Community Charter and Technical Schools.

Rerouting one’s path in life is never easy, but the Sacramento man’s determination led him to where he is today. “I had to rewrite my entire mental road map. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes improvement and I live by that,” Pope said.

Pope’s tireless and positive efforts to improve in prison — attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, taking classes and avoiding potential confrontations — primed him for the success he has attained. Four days after he was released, he enrolled at Highlands Charter and Technical. One month later, he enrolled at the Equity Initiatives Program while interning at the Capitol Mall. Two months after that, he lives a fulfilling life as a successful graduate with a fulltime job as a certified printer making $17 an hour.

Established in 2014, Highlands Charter and Technical’s motto is “It’s never too late!” Its vision is “to eradicate educational inequality.” The school, in the heart of Oak Park at 3263 First Ave., held its soft opening Sept. 9.

One of many programs launched is Equity Initiatives.

“Equity Initiatives specifically addresses the inequitable educational and employment outcomes for African American males, Latinx men and all women of color,” the school’s brochure reads. “Our goal is to disrupt these historically disturbing trends by creating a triad (teacher, counselor, and mentor) surrounding and supporting each of our students.”

Highlands Charter and Technical creates a career pathway for historically marginalized groups and allows a second chance at education and employment. In addition the Equity Initiatives program has successfully graduated 10 formerly incarcerated people, said Von Allen, its assistant director.

It also provides a way to navigate education without incurring serious debt and to learn a marketable trade such as truck driving, welding and office administration.

Lee Farrand, the school’s director of workforce solutions, said the soft opening represents “opening up opportunities in the craft trades to the community and these are careers that provide sustainability to and a comfortable way of life without any debt.”

“This program provides a window into a nontraditional way of life,” she said. “There’s a lot of focus on college and that is not for everybody. We provide hands-on experience – [for example] to be able to see what an HVAC setup looks like, to be able to train with a torch with a professional, really gives that experience for potential scholars.”

Farrand said the school opened its Oak Park location “because we know there is a need. We have 41 locations throughout Sacramento and serve over 7,000 students. But this was a gap for us and so it was important for us to invest in this community.”

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