Xavier McElrath-Bey serves as Co-Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) and is a co-founder of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN).
During his many years at the CFSY, Xavier has fought to abolish life without parole for children in America, and has played a role in ending this practice in several states including Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
At age 13, after accumulating 19 arrests and seven convictions, Xavier was arrested, charged with a gang-related murder, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
While growing up in prison, Xavier became increasingly remorseful for his past actions and decided to change for the better. Hopeful of someday living a “normal life,” Xavier prepared himself by earning an Associate’s degree in Arts and an Associate’s in General Education from Carl Sandburg College, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Roosevelt University, and a certificate in Computer Technology. Xavier was also inducted into the Franklin Honor Society for outstanding scholarship.
In 2002, Xavier was released at age 26 after serving 13 years.
While volunteering as a YMCA youth boxing coach, Xavier landed his first job as a Starbucks barista and decided to pursue a Master’s degree from Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services Program. He graduated with honors in 2006, and since then, he has worked in various fields including violence prevention, youth counseling, clinical research, youth advocacy, and sentencing reform. Prior to his current employment at the CFSY, Xavier worked for Northwestern University’s Health Disparities & Public Policy program, where he conducted over 800 clinical research interviews with formerly incarcerated youth.
Today, Xavier is an ambassador for Represent Justice and is a MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) Advisory Council Member. Previously, Xavier served as a board member at the Community Justice for Youth Institute and as a member of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force’s working group on Community and Police Relations.
Xavier is a prolific speaker who has inspired countless audiences to become reform-minded advocates for the most vulnerable children in our society. Many media and news outlets, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, PBS NewsHour, Steve Wilkos Show, the Marshall Project, and Huffington Post have captured Xavier’s efforts, and his story has also been featured in many literary works, including Howard Schultz’s From the Ground Up and Gordon McLean’s Too Young to Die.
More recently, Xavier received the 2018 Justice Roundtable Excellence Award, the 2019 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Award, and Bright Promises Foundation’s 2021 Champion for Children Award.
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 horrible mistakes, have the capacity for positive change.