June 6, 2024

Meet Avenues for Justice’s 2024 Second Chance Award Recipient: Malik Rainey

Photo by Tom Benedict

Across the country, thousands of young people grow up in under-resourced communities where safety is limited and access to resources and income is scarce. Many turn to gangs, selling narcotics, and carrying weapons for survival and protection. For most of his childhood, Malik Rainey had largely stayed above the fray by playing basketball with his friends after school and coming home afterwards to his mother. He had never been arrested or gotten in trouble at school. However, that all quickly changed for Malik, when at the age of 17, he made a very bad decision.

In June 2019, Malik took a loaded firearm that he had been secretly storing at home, and placed it in his backpack. Malik had witnessed his mother’s financial struggles and the pressures of having to be the man of the house lead him to trying to make fast money off the streets. Covering his face with a ski mask, Malik headed to a nearby supermarket with the intention of robbing someone. He was quickly detained at the supermarket by a security guard, searched and arrested for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. He was facing three to fifteen years in prison if convicted as an adult. Fortunately for Malik, New York State had just passed the Raise the Age law which allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as youth.  

After his arrest, Malik was arraigned and awaited his first court appearance with his mother in Manhattan’s Youth Part. Brian Stanley, a new AFJ Court Advocate at the time, happened to be handing out his business cards to young people and their families in court. Brian approached them and asked Malik about his pending case. After explaining AFJ’s court advocacy program and wraparound services–including supervision, employment and educational opportunities-–Malik’s mother eagerly agreed to meet with AFJ’s Co-Founder and President, Angel Rodriguez, along with Brian at AFJ’s Manhattan courthouse offices. After conducting his intake in July and creating an Individualized Action Plan, Malik became the first Participant in Brian’s caseload.

The Judge presiding over Malik’s case took into consideration that he had never gotten into trouble before and mandated him to AFJ for one year. Malik’s mandate required him to attend programming at AFJ’s Harlem community center four times a week, check in with Brian for curfew every night and re-enroll in school. If he was still compliant after a year, the Judge would consider giving him a youthful offender adjudication which would seal his record.

Brian encouraged Malik to utilize the summer to assess where he was academically and what he would need to do to accomplish his career goals. At the time of his arrest, Malik had dropped out of high school and needed a High School Equivalency (HSE) program, which Brian helped him find. Malik eventually earned his HSE in February 2021. After several weeks of coming to the center, Malik formed a strong bond with two other Participants, both of whom had similar backgrounds to his—all three grew up surrounded by drugs and violence. It was clear, however, that if given second chances and resources to resolve their cases, all three could better their lives.

Photo by Tom Benedict

When it was time for Malik’s disposition, he pled guilty and was sentenced to one year at Avenues for Justice. After only 10 months, the Judge was so impressed with Malik’s progress reports from Brian that she ended his mandate early and his criminal record was officially sealed in October 2020.

Even though Malik was no longer mandated to Avenues for Justice, he continued to utilize AFJ’s services and obtain his OSHA-30 certification, security guard license, and his driver’s license. Malik signed up to be in AFJ’s first OSHA-30 cohort in March 2023. AFJ paid for Malik to attend driving school, where after a few driving lessons he passed his test and received his driver’s license in 2022. Since receiving his security license, Malik has held several security jobs and is currently working night shifts on Randall’s Island.

“Over the past 5 years, I’ve had the privilege to watch Malik grow from a shy, at times impulsive, and typically irresponsible teenager into a confident, thoughtful, and responsible young man. I look forward to seeing him evolve even further as a soon to be father.” ~AFJ Manager of Court Advocacy, Brian Stanley

Currently, Malik is expecting his first child, and is determined to provide a stable life for his baby. Over the summer, he will start a new security guard position at NYU Langone Hospital which offers competitive wages with more favorable hours. Malik’s outlook on life could not be more aligned with Avenues for Justice’s mission of providing 45 Years of Second Chances. Malik knows that “no matter what you have going on or the case you have, it’s never too late to be a better version of yourself.”

Malik, along with six other AFJ Participants, at a 2019 AFJ college tour of Howard University.


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