Imagine yourself stuck deciding between a paycheck and your personal safety.

This was a question posed to more than 100 people from across San Diego by Imperial Dreams film director Malik Vitthal at the recent Center for Civic Engagement Future40 event.

“What if you had no license or car and needed to take the bus to get to work because there are no jobs in your immediate area,” he asked. “This is a reality for many people in San Diego and nationwide.

“However, the problem with riding the bus, especially for young men of color, is that in order to get to your workplace you have to pass through other neighborhoods, which most often means other gang territories. Therefore, every day you are faced with a decision between employment and safety.”

What would you choose?

Fortunately, for many of us this is not a decision we have to make. But as Malik described it during the director’s discussion with Voice of San Diego Editor in Chief Scott Lewis, there are plenty of San Diegans who are not so fortunate.

Formerly incarcerated residents face these obstacles daily.

Power of Storytelling

The Future40 event placed a unique spotlight on one of San Diego’s most pressing challenges – recidivism and the criminal justice system.

According to the San Diego County probation department, the rate of recidivism for juveniles and adults coming out of incarceration is between 34 and 36 percent in our region.

While state and local governments measure these rates differently, every group agrees that today’s youth grow up in an environment that pulls them in different directions. They are presented with many challenges to survive while building a positive future for their loved ones.

This is why we need to focus on the tools for re-integration to improve all our communities, which was a key takeaway from many people at the event.

As Imperial Dreams depicts, underneath the numerous data points and statistics about recidivism lies just as many stories about love, support and determination in the face of insurmountable challenges.

The story of the main character in Imperial Dreams shows us how important it is for all individuals and organizations, from business to government to philanthropy, to work together to solve the problem. The San Diego Foundation is focused doing just that by identifying the root causes of children living in the system and discussing systemic solutions, including housing, education and other needs.

We encourage everyone to join these efforts. Consider attending our next Future40 event or watch the discussion with Malik to learn more about what you can do.