Xavier McElrath-Bey is a champion for the human rights of incarcerated children. Through his work as the Co-Executive Director and National Advocate of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Xavier fights to abolish “life without parole” for children in America. In recent years, he played a role in ending this practice in several states, including Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Xavier is also a co-founder and proud member of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), an initiative of CFSY, which seeks to amplify the stories and voices of leaders who were incarcerated as youth. His 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 degree in Social Science from Roosevelt University, and a mission to advocate for poor, disadvantaged, and at-risk youth. He simply “grew up” in prison. Soon after release from prison, while volunteering as a youth boxing coach at a YMCA on the northwest side of Chicago, Xavier got his first big break in employment as a Starbucks barista. During this time, he earned a Master of Arts from Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services Program. Since his graduation in 2006, Xavier worked in gang intervention, violence prevention, youth diversion, and clinical research–looking at the mental health needs and outcomes of then current and formerly incarcerated youth. 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 and that all children, including those who have made terrible mistakes, have the capacity for positive change.