Latest on Student Campaign for Restorative Justice

I continue to be educated and inspired by students who refuse to give up trying to stop the school to prison pipeline. Alexandria United Teens (AUT) has been collaborating for over 4 years with the Advancement Project, Critical Exposure, NAACP, Tenants and Workers United plus other advocacy organizations to demand funding for restorative practices in this northern Virginia district. So often school climate experts and superintendents dominate this debate but decision makers need to seek out students who have firsthand knowledge of what’s happening in the classrooms and hallways.

AUT students Brooke Wilson and Cynthia Boateng write in EBONY magazine:

Our school population is evenly divided among Latinos, African Americans and Whites. Yet students of color–students like us–are pushed out of school through suspensions and expulsions at disproportionately higher rates than our White counterparts, often for things as minor as taking a cookie off of a cafeteria table, or wearing what some deem provocative clothing.

These anecdotes are backed up with solid data in a comprehensive report that is highlighted by AUT students in an excellent 2-minute video titled Restorative Justice Now.

Specific proposals made repeatedly by AUT to the Superintendent and the Board of Education are outlined on page 13 of A Community Review of Alexandria City Public Schools Implementation of Restorative Justice, including:

  • train 20-30 students to become circle-keepers;
  • designate class periods when circles will be held;
  • train every classroom teacher on relationship-building and harm circles;
  • train every administrator on harm circles.

Salem Meskin of AUT and a T.C. Williams High School senior, whom I’ve watched testify before the School Board, expressed frustration: “The district has promised to implement a set of restorative practices, and to date and they have only marginally begun the work needed to make real change.” This explains why AUT issued a report card with an ‘F.’

Turning the tables where the primary stakeholders—students­—grade their schools and offer constructive solutions should be the norm in every school district. This is one key argument for extending voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds for School Board candidates. Such a city charter amendment will be on the November ballot in San Francisco and we should take notice that all seven SF Board of Education members voted unanimously to support youth suffrage.

Recruiting & Community Organizing Secrets by Young Activists

I had the terrific opportunity to moderate the inaugural Youth Ideas panel with the overarching theme of “Interrupting Injustice” at the International Arts & Ideas Festival. It seems only fair for me to pass along some key points shared by four local activists in New Haven, Connecticut. Click here for brief bios of these inspiring change agents.

  • “Just start…People are waiting for someone to take a stand.” Jeremy Cajigas, now 16, launched Eliminate Racial Profiling because “Fear is what caused me to make my voice heard. Trayvon Martin could have been me.” Jeremy cold-called the Mayor and got her and the Police Chief to come to a youth-organized summit. One outcome: students now are teaching cops how to interact with teens.
  • “Relationships are the foundation…Emotional community building is at the heart.” Isabel Bate, now 18, has been “co-leading” LBGTQ +Kickback for nearly three years. This youth-led organization really knows how to provide “a safe, inclusive space” which is captured in this video.
  • Youth organizing work is multi-faceted…“focusing on restorative justice which includes probation, mentoring, community service rather than the punitive system,” explains Montrel Morrison. He co-founded the annual NAACP Juvenile Justice Expo at Southern Connecticut State University and currently mentors and coaches young people.
  • “Personal outreach is what builds a movement rather than relying only on flyers and social media,” explains Carolina Bortolleto, co-founder of CT Students for a Dream. Sharing stories about being “undocumented and unafraid” gives courage to others and now immigrant youth–not only adults–are testifying and meeting with state legislators.
  • Invite and include individual youth by encouraging them to contribute their artistic talents like creating spoken word, chants or banners.
  • “The rising of a powerful generation,” Jeremy’s tag line, means adult allies need to listen more rather than always lead.

To draw further inspiration and ideas on community organizing, I recommend When We Fight We Win! Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World by Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte.