Silver Lining Mentoring  is pleased to announce the organization’s inaugural Lived Experience Fellow, Jarrett Harper. Jarrett Harper is a criminal justice and foster care reform advocate working to stop exploitation within the criminal justice system, including ending the enforcement of life sentences for children. He is also passionate about disrupting the high rates of justice involvement by youth with experience in foster care.

The Fellowship aims to help empower individuals with firsthand experience in foster care to contribute to national child welfare advocacy and serve as a role model to youth currently experiencing the foster care system. The one-year paid Fellowship offers a supportive peer community, mentorship and professional development opportunities, and avenues for ongoing advocacy and training. Fellows have a demonstrated record of advocacy and potential to make nationwide impact by highlighting the significance of consistent and caring relationships that help current youth in foster care to thrive.

Harper is a survivor of the California foster care system and endured 20 years of incarceration. After experiencing unimaginable trauma and abuse, at 16, Harper took the life of his abuser to protect himself and his younger brother. A year later, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus ten years. Despite having no chance of release from prison, Harper found forgiveness and hope and transformed his own life by helping change the lives of other men in prison who had the opportunity to get out.

After 20 years of creating and facilitating self-improvement programs for his peers, Harper’s sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown through the tireless work of a group of dedicated advocates. On June 18, 2019, he was released from prison by Governor Gavin Newsom. Shortly after his release, he became a social justice impact coordinator at Friends at Work, an ambassador for Represent Justice’s Just Mercy campaign, and has quickly become a sought-after speaker, booking engagements for Verizon, Google, YouTube, Jordan Park, USC, Princeton, Human Rights Watch, MENTOR National, and the Boston Celtics.

“I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to be selected as Silver Lining Mentoring’s first Lived Experience Fellow,” said Harper. “I am excited to contribute to the organization by engaging in policy and advocacy work, spending time with youth in foster care supporting their interests and goals, and contributing to a variety of training and learning initiatives. Through Silver Lining Mentoring’s administrative and professional resources, I plan to contribute to the mission and build my leadership and professional skills as an advocate.” 

Photo credit: MENTOR National Advocacy Team

During his fellowship, Harper will engage in policy and advocacy work, foster community among mentors and mentees, contribute to Silver Lining Mentoring’s national training and strategic consulting, and provide thought leadership on foster care, mentoring, and disrupting justice involvement. 

“Representation matters,” said Silver Lining Mentoring CEO, Colby Swettberg.  “Jarrett Harper’s ability to translate his experiences into tools for social change will be valuable to young people in foster care and to our network of partners and supporters who believe in the healing power of relationships. We are proud to learn alongside Jarrett and build opportunities together for shared learning as we advance the movement to connect more youth in care with long term mentors.”

This Fellowship exemplifies Silver Lining Mentoring’s ongoing commitment to amplify the voices of those who have lived experience and uplift the value of voluntary, consistent relationships as an essential foundation for wellbeing and thriving for young people in foster care. This opportunity will allow the organization to learn and grow programming and national operations to best serve the needs of youth in foster care.