Hero’s name: Danny Murillo
Home city: Berkeley
Organization affiliation: Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Why this person is a Community Hero:
“Danny is a formerly incarcerated student, who now attends U.C. Berkeley. I first met Danny when I was working on a campaign to end solitary confinement in California. I was looking for a formerly-incarcerated student to help co-facilitate a workshop at a conference for college students.
Danny was highly recommended by one of the administrators at U.C. Berkeley. I soon came to see why. Danny is determined, inquisitive and sincere. His leadership style is thoughtful and well-balanced.
Over the years, I watched him take greater leadership roles in the coalition against solitary confinement in California and at U.C. Berkeley.
Danny’s journey to Berkeley was not an easy one. His life as a college student began in a solitary confinement cell at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, where he enrolled in correspondence courses at a community college.
Insecure about his academic abilities, he found support, encouragement and mentorship from the other men who were isolated in his unit. Upon his release from Pelican Bay, he continued to attend community college despite facing obstacles, including barriers to finding housing and employment.
When I met Danny, he was finding his place at Berkeley and just beginning to speak about his experiences in prison. During that time, we were at the height of our struggle to end solitary confinement in California.
His courage and willingness to speak publicly about his experiences in isolation was instrumental in raising the national profile of the tortuous practice of solitary confinement, especially with the mainstream media.
While at U.C. Berkeley, Danny co-founded the Underground Scholars Initiative and a center for formerly-incarcerated students. The Underground Scholars Initiative, which started as a loosely-formed student group, is a reflection of his commitment to help those who have similar experiences and support them through their academic endeavors.
But Danny knew that providing support directly to formerly-incarcerated students wasn’t enough. In order for formerly-incarcerated students to feel welcome and thrive at the school, the school would have to show its commitment to supporting them.
So the students worked with faculty, administration and the student government to get the support they needed to start Underground Scholars as a center at U.C. Berkeley. As the center develops its programming and work, Danny continues to serve as an advisor to ensure that it serves the needs of formerly-incarcerated students.
Danny is a McNair Scholar and has been awarded a Peter E. Haas Public Service Fellowship to support his internship at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He was recently selected to receive a John Gardner Post-Graduate Fellowship which he will complete with Amnesty International before returning to school to earn a graduate degree.”
Honored by: Azadeh Zohrabi of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Note: This profile is part of Equal Voice News’ special Cesar Chavez Day Community Heroes edition. These submissions were edited for clarity.