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Meet the Keynote: Xavier McElrath-Bey

We are thrilled to welcome Xavier McElrath-Bey as the 2024 OpportUNITY Summit Keynote Speaker.

Xavier McElrath-Bey is a champion for the human rights of incarcerated children.

Through his work as the Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) and a Co-Founder of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), Xavier fights to abolish “life without parole” for children in America. During his earlier years at the Campaign, Xavier played a crucial role in ending this practice in several states—including Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Xavier’s passion for this work stems from personal experience. At the age of 13, Xavier was “charged as an adult” for a first-degree gang-related murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After serving 13 years in prison, Xavier came out with a remorseful heart, a bachelor's degree, and a mission to advocate for poor, disadvantaged, and at-risk youth.

Soon after his release, Xavier earned a Master of Arts from Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services Program; and, since his graduation and prior to his current position at the CFSY, Xavier worked in gang intervention (CeaseFire), violence prevention (Catholic Charities), youth diversion (Alternatives, Inc.), and clinical research (Northwestern University) - looking at the mental health needs and outcomes of current and former incarcerated youth

Currently, Xavier serves as a Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) Advisory Council Member at MacArthur Foundation, an Advisory Council Member at Eighth Amendment Project, an Ambassador Alumni with Represent Justice, and an Advisory Council Member at Fair Chance Initiative (FCI). Previously, Xavier served as a board member at the Community Justice for Youth Institute (CJYI) and as a member of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force’s (PATF) working group on Community and Police Relations.

In recent years, Xavier received the 2018 Justice Roundtable Excellence Award, the 2019 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Award, the 2021 Bright Promises Foundation's Champion for Children Award, and the 2023 Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize award.

Although Xavier’s life has changed dramatically since he was a child in the justice system, it wasn’t until 2016, when he met Pedro’s family in a restorative justice healing circle, that he truly felt free from his troubled past. That day, Pedro’s family forgave him and forged a relationship that continues until this day - encouraging him to continue his work.

In his powerful TEDx Talk, titled “No Child is Born Bad”, Xavier reminds all of us that no child should ever receive a “death in prison” sentence; that all children, including those who have made terrible mistakes, have the capacity for positive change.


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