Problem: Juvenile delinquency and recidivism rates are very high in the United States.
Solution: Taft Teen Court.
The Teen Who’s Making A Difference: Michael Mottahedeh of Calabasas, CA.
Michael’s parents came to America from Iran to find religious freedom and opportunity. When they raised Michael, they made sure he understood that all people were entitled to equal opportunities and a chance at justice.
In ninth grade, Michael’s English teacher saw his passion for the justice system and introduced him to Teen Court—a community outreach program run by the L.A. Superior Court that focuses on reducing juvenile delinquency rates and recidivism. In Teen Court, any minor suspected of committing a crime gets to present his/her case to a jury of peers. Students volunteer as jurors, clerks, and bailiffs. If anyone is found guilty, s/he can complete a Teen Court sentence and get a clean record.
Michael was inspired by the Taft Charter High School Teen Court and helped expand the program using social media campaigns, field trips, and fundraisers. He grew the organization from 25 students to an average of 140 students per session. He also studied the way Teen Court affects change with youth offenders—with a 90% success rate at keeping minors out of the formal Juvenile Justice System.
Michael’s determination helps inspire at-risk teens to make positive choices and gives their peers an opportunity to connect and empower. This year, he received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for his hard work.
We caught up with Michael in between college classes to find out more about his work.
What are some of your happiest childhood memories?
Growing up, my happiest memories emerged while spending time with my family and friends at the Shabbat table on Friday nights.
Who is your favorite author?
Rick Riordan. I recall fond memories of reading the “Percy Jackson” series in middle school.
Where are you in school now, and what’s your favorite subject there?
Currently, I am attending the University of California, Berkeley intending to major in either Political Science or Political Economy.
Who is one of your greatest heroes and why?
One of my greatest heroes is Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor who led the fight against anti-Semitism and injustice around the world. He served as a ray of light and as a beacon of hope despite unimaginable suffering. Elie Wiesel emphasized the importance of taking action despite adversity and fear. I hope to follow in the footsteps of Elie Wiesel and one day inspire others to take action and make a real difference in the world.
Do you remember any of the cases you tried in Teen Court?
I recall many of the cases in Teen Court. These cases have helped develop my critical thinking skills and my passion for helping others. The most rewarding part of Teen Court is when the defendants come back to participate as jurors in our Teen Court cases.
What’s next for Taft Teen Court?
I have passed on the leadership role in Taft Teen Court; however, I have developed and am improving a website to encourage participation and activism in Teen Court.
Anything else you’d like to say about Taft Teen Court or your Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award?
I am extremely grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for this generous award. I hope these remarks inspire young people to take action and bypass the socially imposed barriers and constraints placed upon them. Our potential is as limitless or as limited as we imagine and perceive it to be.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org