Three perspectives on incarceration, criminal justice, and the impact on society
In The Guardian this week, an article was published noting that there had been 994 mass shootings in 1004 days. The rhetoric spinning out from the tragedy has focused on mental health, residual commentary on gun violence, and security (with some going so far as to suggest that arming more people is a step toward preventing such a shooting from reoccurring). Below are three links — two documentary and one media commentary — that tangentially or directly address issues of gun violence, incarceration, criminal justice, and mental health in our country. There are more, and we’ll share them here as part of our ongoing efforts to inform ourselves and each other as we engage in debates about justice in the lives of youth. We encourage you to share additional pieces that you’d like to include in subsequent posts.
HBO’s VICE Special Report: Fixing the System
President Barack Obama sits down with Vice and prison inmates at the El Reno correctional facility to discuss a growing human rights crisis in the Vice on HBO Special Report: Fixing the System.
Prison Kids: A Crime Against America’s Children
Presented by entrepreneur, music mogul and activist Russell Simmons and narrated by “Empire” actress Gabourey Sidibe, this hourlong documentary investigation, “Prison Kids,” is the result of Fusion’s work. It is a story about how to take children and ostracize them, derange them, outlaw them. It is the story of America’s crimes against children.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Mental Health
John Oliver explains how our national system of treating mental health works, or more often than not, how it doesn’t.
Memorial for Sharieff Clayton
Two months ago, our teacher, mentor, and friend, Sharieff Clayton, was taken away from his friends and family much too soon. On Monday, June 29th, his life and the impact he has on so many other people’s lives will celebrated during a memorial in his honor.
DATE: Monday, June 29, 2015
TIME: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
LOCATION: First Corinthians Baptist Church, 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, NY, NY 10027
(at 116th St.)
#YMEJ year-end exhibition
#YMEJ (Un)Final Projects – Exhibition Opening
May 11, 2015, 6-8p, Russell Library 1st floor lobby
Teachers College, Columbia University
This year’s #YMEJ exhibition incorporates an emphasis on
multiliteracies, which has been at the center of our inquiries as we
engaged with the lives of young people involved in the foster care and
juvenile justice systems. Embedded in their institutional experiences
are a range of other forces that have informed our own understandings
about surveillance, justice, and education in these young people’s
lives, as well as the creative capacities that are brought forth when
we create the conditions that allow their literacies and practices of
possibility to flourish.
On the life and death of a friend.
He was a man
Sharieff Clayton is more than the name of a victim who was “fatally shot” or “killed” or is “dead” as a result of a shooting in Brooklyn last night*.
He was a man, a colleague, a friend who dedicated the last decade of his life to working with, learning with, laughing with, teaching with, creating with, imagining with, exploring the world with the young men and women whom he met as a member of the staff at an alternative to detention program.
He was a man who loved his family fiercely, who glowed with pride when he talked about his wife and children, sharing stories of their accomplishments and giggling when describing his children’s antics; he beamed even more brightly when they occasionally joined him at his workplace.
He was a man who wrote a book while he was incarcerated, which was published after he returned home and that continues to be read by thousands; it was supposed to be the first of many.
He was a man who had just completed his second book, written in stolen hours of the morning, on the subway, while walking to and from work, much of it thumbed into his phone so he wouldn’t lose the freshness of any thought that occurred to him; he was so proud of what had taken him over six years to write; he was writing as much for his audience as for himself.
He was a man who, every day, kept his promise to the young men and women at the program where he worked to live the words he would share with them: Honor. Honesty. Family. Commitment. Conviction. Education. Self-respect. A legacy of greatness.
He was a man who had very recently decided to focus full time on his writing and to embrace his identity as an author; he began imagining conversations around his new book that would bring together diverse groups of people in a Socratic seminar style.
He was a man who didn’t comprehend the concept of giving up on someone, who brought young people back into the fold of the program where he worked even after they were no longer participants; and they returned, to have a place to be and be seen and belong, if only temporarily.
He was a man who carried his past experiences with gun violence and incarceration with him and shared it openly in service of his greater educational mission to invite people to interrupt what seems unchangeable, to imagine things as they might be, to continually dwell in the possibility of the “not yet.”
He was a man whose words stayed with the young men and women he taught, often making an appearance in their minds at unexpected but crucial moments.
He was a man for whom friendship permeated his ways of working with colleagues and who deeply valued these relationships as vital to him personally and in service of his commitment to be the change, see the change, and nurture those who can change the world.
He was a man who approached the world as a teacher and a learner, for whom every encounter held the potential to educate.
He was a man about whom stories of justice and commitment and caring will be told, should be told.
He was a man whom it was a privilege to have known.
He was a man who should be here today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And…
He was a man.
*Monday, April 27th
YMEJ @ Justice Teaching Roundtable (with Center for Justice at Columbia)
This week, Prof. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and I will be representing the teaching team and talking about our YMEJ work — including the seminar, the emerging research, and our public pedagogy efforts (including this blog) — as part of the Justice Teaching Roundtable Series. We are thrilled and humbled to be participating in this dialogue with our colleagues from across the university, and as part of our presentation we will be sharing excerpts from the past years of work with the YMEJ graduate seminar, the collaborative mentoring experiences, and we’ll be engaging the audience in some YMEJ-style inquiry through media-making.
If you’re near the Columbia campus, stop by and check it out. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.
YOUTH, MEDIA AND EDUCATIONAL JUSTICE: BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY
Tuesday November 18th, 2014 – 3–5pm
Teachers College, Russell Hall Rm 305
New year, new possibilities
The third year of our YMEJ seminar has begun! This year, we are focusing more explicitly on multiliteracies (the “M” in YMEJ), while still engaged in ample media production and media analysis in our journey to explore the ways in which the stories, lives, and institutional experiences of court-involved young people are represented and mediated.
Once again, we have an exciting new group of graduate students from several different departments at Teachers College who are taking this journey with us. You will be hearing from them soon.
Last week we were visited by the inimitable Prof. Suzanne Carothers who reminded us that we must look inward before we can move forward with our desires to “help” — in her invitation are echoes of those wise words from Australian Aboriginal artist and elder, Lilla Watson: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
As in years past, we are fortunate to have built a strong circle of critical friends who join us as guest speakers and share their insights and pose invitations to us to look and look again differently at that which we are in the pursuit of trying to understand. In this seminar, all of us are always students and teachers; we all learn with and from each other and of course with and from the young people with whom we continue to work and in service of whose educational wellbeing we are committed.
Join us as we embark on this next leg of our journey and as new bloggers share their perspectives with you. And in the meantime, don’t forget to follow us on twitter: @YMediaJustice
2nd Annual YMEJ Clothing Drive
In conjunction with this year’s YMEJ Exhibition — “Inquiry into Educational Justice” — we are launching a clothing drive to collect new and like-new items of clothing that will be donated to alternative to detention (ATD) programs in New York City.
This clothing drive is our second, and follows on the huge success of last spring’s event in which we collected over 65 bags of clothing and accessories that were distributed to 5 different ATDs in three boroughs. In our work with youth, we have consistently heard from them that a major obstacle to regular school attendance is the fear of being teased or bullied for a lack of clothing. Thus, we reached out to the Teachers College and greater Columbia University community and were overwhelmed by students’ thoughtfulness and generosity. Our ATD partners were similarly touched and Ana Dopazo, a Senior Education Specialist at Choices ATD, shared these thoughts with us:
Usually when people hear of a child who is consistently missing school they think that the child is getting into trouble or not interested in school or lazy etc…but in actuality there are many reasons that a child might not be succeeding academically that are not by choice. The participants that we usually have in our program are living in poverty. We constantly see kids that refuse to go to school because they don’t have clothes that are clean, in good condition, or that even fit properly because they’ve grown out of it or are sharing clothes with family. Sometimes just getting them new clothes is the simple solution to their school attendance…it gives them their confidence, allows them to feel comfortable in a social setting, and it gives them the motivation to go to school. Many people can’t understand why this would affect someone so tremendously because most of us don’t realize that being able to go shopping for clothes is a luxury, and not something that everyone is capable of doing. The clothing drive will help our kids in need to hopefully be able to add a few items to their wardrobe that will allow them at least some outfits they can mix and match to attend school. I don’t think that this is the answer to all our truant kids but it’s a start…it’s an opportunity to allow these kids that actually want to go to school a chance to have a normal educational experience without the worries of whether or not he/she will have something to wear to school. This clothing drive can also be the answer to our kids not getting rearrested for stealing things they need and may also prevent teasing or bullying in school. So its not just giving a kid a shirt or pants to wear its so much more that: you are contributing to this child life.
Please share this information widely and look for donation boxes in both Zankel Hall and Whittier at Teachers College — and please consider making a clothing donation.
YMEJ Exhibition: Inquiry into Educational Justice (May 12th – June 2nd)
If you’re in NYC, come and visit our exhibition, “Inquiry into Educational Justice,” featuring multimodal publications produced by this year’s cohort of YMEJ Seminar graduate students. In these publications, the YMEJ students explore a variety of issues and topics related to educational justice and draw on a variety of media and multimodal resources to bring their yearlong inquiries to life for a broader audience.
The exhibition is part of YMEJ’s commitment to public pedagogy and was made possible by the material and technical resources and support of EdLab at Teachers College, who helped us bring our aesthetic visions into reality.
Where: M. W. Offit Family Gallery, 3rd Floor, Teachers College (525 W. 120th St., 10027)
When: Monday, May 12th through Monday, June 2nd
Learn more about the exhibition here; and please let us know what you think if you do visit.
Note: We are also sponsoring a clothing drive as another element of public pedagogy and social action in conjunction with this exhibit. Click to learn more.
(photos from our opening reception soon to come!)
What is family?
The winter premiere of the ABC Family show “The Fosters” is set for tonight (Monday, January 13th) — part two of the first season of a show that has captured people’s attention with its varied representations of underrepresented narratives: lesbian parents, trans-racial adoption, and youth in foster care. At the heart of the show is the (not at all simple) idea of family — as a reminder, the trailer for the winter premiere (airing tonight at 9:00 EST on ABC Family) opens with the question: “how do you define family?” (watch below)
If you are new to the show, you can view the first ten episodes on the ABC Family website. There are complicated family dynamics, and in all fairness there are more than a few “hollywood” elements intended to keep the viewer hooked. But I continue to appreciate the range of delicate issues that the show’s producers seem to be willing to tackle, albeit somewhat imperfectly:
- the role of biological parents in the lives of children they have placed in foster care
- range of portrayals of caring adults
- sibling relationships (biological, forged through foster care, and others)
- range and variation in what constitutes a “normal” adolescence
- constraints as well as affordances of a child welfare institution like foster care, where not everyone fits a stereotype (i.e. savior complex, uncaring grunt, abuser of power, etc.)
- nuanced representations of law enforcement
- multi-racial families
I’m hoping to do a bit more blogging about the show this spring, and would love to know what others think as well. In prep for tonight’s winter premiere, here’s a sneak peek of an exchange between two new siblings:
And for another reflection on family, check out the latest blog post by a member of the YMEJ family, Emily Bailin: Love Letter, Part II: Reflections on Mentoring a Court-Involved Young Person
See you on the flipside!
Our top 10 posts of 2013
We started blogging late this summer and over the course of the past several months, the YMEJ Project Team has been joined by some members of the current cohort of YMEJ graduate students in contributing to this blog. They are:
- Emily Bailin
- Nicole Blandford
- Emeline Brylinski
- Katie Newhouse
- Laura Vernikoff
- Kelly Gavin Zuckerman
Click on their avatars (to the right, over there…) to read additional posts by them and stay tuned for more from us in 2014.
Collectively, we are educators, researchers, community members, adults in the lives of youth, and committed to the wellbeing of young people across multiple institutions; what has brought us together through the YMEJ Seminar, in particular, is our shared interest in better understanding the various contours and nuances of the lives, institutional navigations, challenges, possibilities, educational trajectories, dreams, and desires of young people involved with the foster care and/or juvenile justice system.
Below is a list of posts that seemed to catch your attention over the past several months. Check them out, pass them on, and feel free to suggest additional topics and resources for us to learn and blog about.
- Engaging Youth as Active Participants In/For Social Change: a teaser for YMEJ Member Tara Conley’s presentation for the Racial Literacy Roundtable Series at Teachers College, Columbia University on the creative and socially engaged approach to participatory design in justice-focused work with youth.
- Youth speaking about Stop and Frisk — Views from the reluctant experts: 2013 saw significant attention being given to the NYPD’s policy of “stop and frisk,” intended as a public safety measure but having serious consequences for the mostly Black and Latino male inhabitants of NYC who were disproportionately the focus of this practice. In a related post, Emeline depicts similar challenges that are ongoing in her native France surrounding racial profiling.
- The treatment of children is the focus of this next post, titled Pondering Child Homelessness in the Wake of Dasani, that builds from Andrea Elliot’s widely read 5-part series in the New York Times last month and presents a series of additional resources and connections. We — meaning the YMEJ team — are continuing to ponder this narrative and all the author was able to reveal about child welfare, city policies, and the persistent challenges of poverty through her in-depth profile of this young, 11-year-old girl. We hope to have more to say in the coming weeks and months.
- Another view of our nation’s treatment of children was profiled in the post focusing on child hunger: “Hunger hurts everyone” – A Place at the Table. We include information about the recent cuts to SNAP, links to a PBS special about child hunger and a related documentary, and highlight a university-community partnership headed by Mariana Chilton in an effort to interrupt the effects of poverty and hunger while also aiming to provide research that may catalyze changes to the policies that govern funding decisions at the local, state, and federal levels.
- In addition to Dasani, our imaginations were captured by two young men who were in the news: Avonte Oquendo and Davion Navar Henry Only. In their respective posts, Katie and Nicole raise important questions about how we see and understand the stories of youth enmeshed into large, impersonal bureaucratic systems, and about the ways in which their lives are represented and mediated. Of Avonte, we continued to hear that he was an autistic child who had gone missing and about Davion, we continued to read about the public plea he made in search of a family. Check out both of these posts to learn more about the young men and the institutional structures their situations call into question:
- We were grateful for a collaboration that sprung out of a twitter connection with @PrisonCulture, who, back in August, tweeted a series of youth-led change-making efforts going on nationwide. We compiled these resources into a handy list, and received additional recommendations via the blog and twitter that were also added: Youth Making Change Across the Country. This is just a drop in the bucket, and in 2014 we plan to profile several more organizations and groups who are working tirelessly to “be the change [they] wish to see in the world.”
- In addition to the above list of youth-led efforts, we also learned of institutional and community-based efforts to strengthen the lives of youth across settings, in the form of mentoring, higher education, and arts-infused activism. Learn more about these efforts in these posts:
- Finally, our attention was captivated by a book released earlier this year by author Cris Beam, who details the experiences of children and families ensnared in the child welfare and foster care system in her book “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.” Reading her book took our own inquiries about care, family, home, and institutions to a variety of places and resources, which we have gathered in our post: Neverending “June” — Or: The burden of care
There you have it — our top 10 (ok, if you were really counting, I snuck in a few more than 10…) posts from 2013. Thanks for being a great audience and we look forward to sharing more thoughts and dialogue with you in the year to come.
Wishing you a healthy, safe, and inspired 2014!
The YMEJ Team.