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VOCES on PBS: The Pushouts

Victor Rios in a classroom
Katie Galloway
Victor Rios in a classroom.

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / On demand now with KPBS Passport!

“The Pushouts” explores the remarkable story of Victor Rios’ evolution from school pushout and gang member to UC professor, author, and thought leader on the school-to-prison pipeline. In 1978 Rios's single mother, looking for a better life, risked a fraught desert border crossing with Rios, then 2, and his 7 year old brother. Landing on the unforgiving streets of East Oakland, California, the boys spent days locked in an apartment in a condemned building - the best their struggling mom could do while she worked 12 hour days.

Inside Look: “The Pushouts”

A sweet, sensitive kid with impaired vision and, after an honest (and naive) answer given to his sixth grade teacher, the unbearable nickname “bastardo,” Rios drops out of school and soon thereafter joins a gang.


"Kids from his neighborhood had a choice," says Rios. "Be gang-affiliated or be prey."

‘I Don’t Want to Be Vulnerable’

When Smiley, a homeless "nowhere in the world type kid” Rios had taken under his wing, is murdered in front of him, 16- year-old Rios has another crucial choice to make: adhering to “street justice” or seeking out the one person he thinks can help: his quietly prodding, consistently available teacher, Flora Russ.

Our verité footage begins in 2013, shortly after Rios gets an unexpected phone call from his high school mentor Martin Flores, at the time a UC student and La Raza organizer, whom Rios hadn't spoken to in more than 15 years. Flores makes Rios an offer he can’t refuse: leading YO!Watts, an intensive program for youth on the edge in south central LA. Six weeks, no funding, "and I want you to bring a team that can inspire these youth." After some soul searching Rios agrees and recruits a team of super-mentors.

‘It Really Haunts Me Every Day’

Referred to as “dropouts” in national statistics and common parlance, many of these youth are actually “pushouts” trying to stay enrolled against the odds.

Pushouts Not Dropouts

“The Pushouts” tells the story of the one-in-three Latino and Black students nationally who do not graduate, are pushed into continuation schools, low-paying jobs, and - too often - the criminal justice and mass incarceration systems. Back home, Rios reckons with the limitations of what his short time with these youth can accomplish and reflects on his analysis about the degree of systemic and structural transformation necessary to change the lives of youth of color.


“The Pushouts” is a hard knocks story told with an unusual degree of hope and inspiration, systemic critique, and aesthetic nuance.

Education, Rebellion, and Hope

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film is available on demand with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join the Conversation:

"The Pushouts" on Facebook + @thepushouts on Twitter


About the filmmakers: Director, Producer, Writer: Katie Galloway. Producer, Co-Director: Dawn Valadez. Producer, Co-writer: Daniella Brower Sueuga. Senior Producer / Executive Producer: Sharon Tiller. Editor: Stephanie Mechura. Director Of Photography: Mario Furloni. Composer: B. Quincy Griffin. Executive Producer: Chana Ben-dov.