Rep. Bowman names Yonkers nonprofit founder as his guest for SOTU address

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) picked the founder of the Yonkers-based nonprofit 914United, as his guest to President Joe Biden's State of the Union Address.

Jonathan Gordon

Mar 1, 2024, 2:02 AM

Updated 88 days ago

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From his prison cell just six years ago, Jonathan Alvarez would have never believed where he was going next week. But today, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) picked the founder of the Yonkers-based nonprofit 914United, as his guest to President Joe Biden's State of the Union Address.
“Jonathan is a leader in our community who has committed himself to uplifting our youth, making sure that everyone has the resources they need to thrive, and prioritizing equity and justice," Bowman wrote in a statement.
Alvarez grew up in southwest Yonkers and had a difficult upbringing. When he was 10, his father was deported, and he was raised in poverty and kicked out of school by age 15.
When he was 13 he turned to street gangs for community. First, he sold drugs but at age 17 a feud between his crew and a rival group led to his manslaughter and gang assault arrest. He was sentenced to 15 years in state prison after his 18th birthday.
"I found outside my home a haven, unfortunately," Alvarez said.
Alvarez served almost 13 years behind bars until he was 30 years old and was released in 2018.
"I didn't just serve prison time, prison time served me," he said.
He quickly faced the challenges most people encounter when they've been locked away from the world for so long and turned to his friends when he reached a dark place following his release.
"I needed support. I felt like I failed. Then I said, ‘Something's wrong with me. I just feel like I'm in a terrible place,’ and everyone came to my aid," he said.
It was at that moment, that he realized others like him must also need the same support and that there's an opportunity to turn other young people away from the life he lives. 914United was born.
"I was not alone when I had my pitfalls and that's the same message that we're giving these youth that they're not alone," Alvarez said.
Now almost four years later, the organization touched the lives of 1,800 young people last year. Many face the same challenges Alvarez did when he was their age.
"It's very healing, it's rewarding, it's motivating," he said.
914United provides support, mentorship, and hands-on learning to young people, some as young as 10 years old, negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. They spend time in Yonkers' classrooms, the youth detention center and the county jail hoping to reach kids before they end up spending a lifetime behind bars or caught in an endless cycle of crime.
Alvarez said his transformation is only further validated with the congressman's invitation and he hopes his presence next week in Washington D.C. sends a message to the kids in his program.
"The goal for me with that is to show them that you can transcend your environment and that's what it means for me. Being an example for the people that I serve," Alvarez said.
President Joe Biden's State of the Union speech is scheduled for Thursday, March 7 at 9 p.m. at the U.S. Capitol.


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