We began our day with a warm welcome from our sponsors—Allison R. Brown, Executive Director, Communities for Just Schools Fund, and Leticia Peguero, Executive Director, Andrus Family Fund and Andrus Family Philanthropy Program.
Allison and Leticia reminded us of the importance of our collective work and why convening is so important for collaboration and learning. Bringing together juvenile justice and education efforts to learn from each other.
Terri Freeman, President of National Civil Rights Museum, formally welcomed us to Memphis and instilled a sense of urgency regarding education justice. She noted rising high school graduation rates among children of color juxtaposed with a decline in their college readiness. She called on attendees to address this disparity with, “Our students are depending on you.”
In the first session, we heard presentations from Arnold Chandler and Tia Martinez of Forward Change Consulting. Arnold shed a light on implicit bias and how it plays out in our schools and our criminal justice system.
Tia shared how her upbringing led her to do the work she does today. She did not shy away from the pain she experienced watching her parents struggle with addiction and the subsequent suicide of her baby sister. She stressed the importance of family support to overcome toxic stress and shed light on the criminalization of normal developmental behaviors in children.
James Bell, Founder of W. Haywood Burns Institute, and Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of The Alliance of Families for Justice, took us on a journey to explore our country’s history of racial injustice and structures of white supremacy in our second plenary of the day. They challenged us to question a status quo that has historically disregarded the humanity of people of color. James painted a very vivid picture showing what our justice system is today and what it could be—two conflicting ideologies that cannot coexist. The first: our current system of custody, control and suppression. The other: intervention, services and a restorative asset-based approach. As we all know, the former does not work.
Our next panel was a rallying cry for education justice. Led by former Andrus Family Fund Program Officer, Katrina Mitchell, the panelists explored the points of intersection juvenile justice and our schools. When panelist Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition took the mic, it energized the room in a way we hadn’t seen before. She called for more investment in direct action organizing, changing our language to be more inclusive and abolishing our current youth justice system rather than reforming it.
Next, we were shown the power of technology when it comes to defending the rights of youth. Najma and Jenny from Youth on Board shared their organization’s Know Your Rights! App. The app helps Boston students understand their rights pertaining to suspension and expulsion policies, stay connected to other students in the district and report violations.
Our next plenary focused on what it means to feel safe for communities of color. Andrus Family Fund’s Manuela Arciniegas engaged attorneys Marbre Stahly-Butts, Center for Popular Democracy, and Jennifer Kim, Ella Baker Center, to share their truths about what led them to become policy advocates. Marbre reflected on a childhood in which multiple family members struggled with addiction and witnessing her father in court. Jennifer reflected on how the Rodney King riots resulted in the subsequent assault of her father. Marbe dropped stat after stat, proving that living wages are at the core of real criminal justice reform. All agreed that education, employment and infrastructure investment makes us safer—not an enhanced police presence in communities of color. A passionate discussion ensued, which explored varying points of view. Some attendees defended their program models for reconciliation with local law enforcement. Some, such as representatives from B.O.P., stressed that police have no place in schools and that there is too much trauma and distrust in many communities. Jennifer echoed those sentiments, stating that Oakland is not ready to engage with police because the community needs time to heal.
The subject matter of the last plenary of the day focused on something that is on everyone’s minds: The election. Attendees were encouraged to collaborate on issues, such as holding their candidates accountable to further their youth justice missions.
After a long day of amazing dialogue, attendees gathered atop the Peabody for an open mic night that was refreshing, healing and charged with emotion and empowerment. To close an already amazing evening, we were treated to the lyrical stylings of Memphis-based Marco Pavé. ASHAY.