As he stood in front of a crowd at the California Institute of the Arts in 2012, Jose Estrada Jr. swayed to the rhythm of his poem, "Abandoned Dreams," and spoke of his desire to be an example to kids in his community.
"When I finish this poem, understand that I leave these dreams with you,” he said. “Don’t allow these dreams to go to waste. We’re all the same because we all hope that one day our dreams will come true, and I do too as long as everyone else’s do.”
On May 3, 2014 Estrada Jr. tragically died in a car accident, cutting short his dreams of representing the underserved youth in Lincoln Heights. Just as Estrada urged others to do in his poem, his family has not let his dreams and those of others in their community go to waste.
Following his death, Estrada’s parents, Yvette and Jose Estrada, started the EmBrase foundation, whose mission is to “bring positive change in the lives of underserved children by embracing art programs and providing scholarship opportunities to help inspire and develop educated leaders.”
The nonprofit raises money for the arts by hosting community events in Lincoln Heights, including their annual 5k run, scholarship reception and silent auction.
The Estrada family hopes to help the next generation overcome poverty and other obstacles so that they don’t have to abandon their dreams.
“It comes out of something that gave us so much grief and so much sadness – the death of our son – but it also brings so much hope,” Yvette Estrada said of the decision to start EmBrase.
From a young age, “JoJo” as his close friends and family called him, nurtured his passion for the arts at Plaza De La Raza. Translated as “Place for the People,” Plaza de la Raza is a multidisciplinary community arts space providing year-round arts education to the Eastside neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
“He loved to perform. He loved the light. Besides poetry, he did hip-hop, he did theatre. He was an artist," the elder Jose Estrada said. The multi-talented artist later went on to graduate from CalArts and worked as a teacher, actor, activist, and more.
“JoJo” Estrada was deeply committed to promoting arts in the inner city, teaching young people everything from theater to dance. Now, his parents have carried on his legacy, awarding $36,000 in scholarships to LA County youth and donating $14,000 to support nonprofit art programs like Plaza De La Raza.
So far, they have helped nearly 70 students, including Esmeralda Rodriguez, a scholarship recipient attending Cal State Long Beach. "It changed my life and I got the experience that I needed,” she said.
EmBrase has also helped LA youths pursue a higher education in the arts at UC Berkley, San Francisco State University, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UCLA and more.
Although Jose Estrada Jr. is no longer with us today, his family has made the dreams he talked about in his inspiring poem come true: “Once the ideas are inside me, these dreams will never die … I represent all my young friends who never made it past the age of 18, but most of all I represent where I am from to the fullest, because for me it’s a place of many abandoned dreams.”