2nd Annual YMEJ Clothing Drive

YMEJ Clothing Drive

Donation bins in Zankel Hall & Whittier Hall, Teachers College

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!)

“Because I’m 16”

New York is the only state other than North Carolina that prosecutes youth as adults when they turn 16. According to Raise the Age NY, an advocacy campaign for increasing the age of criminal responsibility:

Nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year – the vast majority for minor crimes (75.3% are misdemeanors).

Furthermore, more than 600 children ages 13 to 15 are also prosecuted in adult criminal courts –seriously diminishing their life prospects before they’ve even entered high school.

Over 70% of the children and youth arrested are black or Latino.  Of those sentenced to incarceration, 80% are black and Latino.

On their own, the statistics above are disturbing, painting a bleak picture of a system that is misaligned with science around adolescent development and the experiences of so many, including policy makers, who remember being young, impulsive, and rebellious. When paired with the voices of young people and the exposure of the hypocrisy evident in laws governing youth behavior, as in a recent PSA from the New York Center for Juvenile Justice, the statistics take on an even more penetrating message.

Because I’m 16, I can’t drive at night.

Because I’m 16, I can’t get a cell phone without my parents.

Because I’m 16, I can’t get a flu shot without my mother’s consent.

At 16, I’m not allowed to watch an R-rated movie alone.

Because I’m 16, I can’t sit on a jury, but I can be tried as an adult.

Listen to these young people making the case for “Judging Children as Children.”

Does Every Action Really Lead to an Equal and Opposite Reaction?

At the Educational Justice Symposium on March 31st, 2014, Michelle Fine reminded us that people and their actions aren’t necessarily so different; however, society’s reactions vary quite a bit. Although research certainly supports this point, it seems to get lost in all the deficit-based discussions about what’s wrong with kids, families, and communities that lead to some kids winding up being court-involved. A better question might be, what’s wrong with our systems of education, law, social work, etc., that lead to Black kids getting much harsher consequences, including incarceration, than White kids for the exact same behaviors (see, e.g., Michael Rocque & Raymond Paternoster’s 2011 article in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminolology: “Understanding the Antecedents of the ‘School-to-Jail’ Link: The Relationship Between Race and School Discipline”).

The questions we ask matter because different questions lead to different answers. If we ask, what’s wrong with these kids that cause them to wind up court-involved? then we are likely to find something “wrong” with the kids (hey, nobody’s perfect) that we might easily assume leads to court-involvement. We then try to “fix” the kids in order to reduce their court-involvement. However, the problem remains that, when kids perform the same actions, they receive pretty different reactions from society.

If, on the other hand, we ask, what’s wrong with these systems that cause them to punish Black kids so much more harshly for the same actions as White kids? then we will get pretty different answers. So far, it seems like there are problems all down the line, starting from individual teachers making decisions in their classrooms, to school-level responses, to arrest and sentencing rates. And remember, these reactions vary for the same kid actions. If, for example, a White kid and a Black kid are both found in the gym when they are supposed to be in math class, the White kid is much more likely to receive a milder punishment, such as a phone call home. The Black kid is much more likely to receive a harsher punishment, such as suspension; in fact, there have been cases of kids in this situation getting arrested for “trespassing.” Two kids, equal actions, hugely unequal reactions.

“Being tough on crime and tough on criminals is not the same thing…”

Just came across this article on Policy Mic featuring a short animated video about mass incarceration in the United States. Vloggers Hank and John Greene worked with and The Prison Policy Initiative to create the video. The vlogging brothers write in the description of the video on YouTube,

It wasn’t easy to pick this topic, but I believe that America’s 40-year policy of mass incarceration is deeply unethical, not very effective, and promotes the security of the few at the expense of the many.

It’s hard for me, as a person who was born into privilege, to imagine the challenges convicted criminals face, often for crimes that are utterly non-violent.

If you’re feeling like you want to do something about this, I’m mostly just making this video as an informational resource and to encourage people to think of felons not as bad, scary people but just as people.

The people at The Prison Policy Initiative were very helpful in the creation of this video and if you want to learn more about their work and how to get involved go to

To be sure, the video does not cover all aspects of the conversation–there is not mention or discussion of how race and class factor into the conversation (e.g. how there is an insanely disproportionate amount of young, lower or working-class Black men in the prison system), but the video is engaging, offers a number of jarring facts, and will hopefully spur some conversation, raise awareness, and prompt people to want to learn more about the injustices of the prison system in the U.S.

Leveraging Individual Talents to Make Change In the Lives of Former Foster Youth

According to San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, there are 65,000 children and youth in foster care in California—by far the highest population of any state. Each year over 4,000 foster youth “age out” of this system.  Within the first 2 to 4 years after emancipation, 51% of these young adults are unemployed, 40% are on public assistance, 25% become homeless, and 20% will be incarcerated.

Importantly, attention is being turned to this crisis and individuals and communities are mobilizing. In a recent report on KALW Local Public Radio in San Francisco entitled “A Starting Place for Former Foster Youth,” journalist Rachel Wong highlights individuals in the San Francisco community who are experimenting with new ways to support these young people educationally, professionally, and personally.  Wareene Loften, age 73, is featured in the story as  a striking example of the power of leverging individual talents to make change in the lives of others.

After one year volunteering as a mentor at Guardian Scholars, a program at the City College of San Francisco that provides support for foster youth, Wareene Loften “recognized pretty quickly how much the students struggled with housing.” As a real estate agent, Loften felt that her skills and services could be put to good use. At first, Loften helped by locating open sublets for individual students in local residences. Then, in December 2012, she convinced an owner of a home near City College to let her rent the house and then sublet it to four Guardian Scholar students. In doing so, Loften was able to do what she thought was best for her students— to provide opportunities for independent living and a flexible payment schedule. “I pay the rent upfront, and they reimburse me, so I’m giving them that leisure time to get their money together,” she says.

The project has been a success with Loften’s ingenuity and outlook on foster youth being praised by tenants like Darrel Molett:

Not a lot of people believe in foster youth. They believe we mess things up more than fix things. And she took it the other way around. She said we fix things more than mess things up.

Looking forward, Loften is looking to expand her model and hopes to recruit more likeminded people to join the cause. The fate of too many young people in California and across the country is at stake. As she explains,

Somebody needs to do it. It just has to be done.


by Roger Horton

At the Educational Justice Symposium on March 31, one of the many memorable speakers was Kenneth Phillips from The Possibility Project. He spoke of Project’s humble beginnings as City of Peace on the streets of Washington, DC, as a way to address violence and racial division – and of its current focus on using performance art and community action to empower NYC teenagers in multiple ways.

I have been impressed with other NYC-based organizations that use performance art as a means to engage young people such as the All-Stars Project and Theatre of the Oppressed.

At the Symposium I was fascinated by Kenneth’s description of how youth who become a part of The Possibility Project’s programs (through non-competitive auditions) are often transformed while learning much about themselves, their abilities, and how they relate to others.

EJS Pic 1

At the Educational Justice Symposium at Teachers College, Columbia University – March 31, 2014

It turned out that The Possibility Project’s latest show, “Uproute”, was happening last week so I took the opportunity to ride out to Brooklyn and see what the results looked like in person.  The show had already started when I arrived, and one of the young staff members guided me professionally to a balcony seat overlooking the entire stage.  For the next hour the stage was filled with dramatic encounters between the show’s teenage actors: conversations, arguments, scenes of bullying, family fights, child abuse, children running away, siblings in tears, and all of it coming from the experiences of the teenagers themselves.

The emotional power of the scenes easily compensated for any rough edges in acting ability.  Lessons were clearly learned as each of the difficult situations moved towards resolution.  The parents involved learned as many lessons as their children.  The show culminated in an all-hands finale that was exuberant, playful, and moving.  The sight of 50 teenage actors in the final song of the night could have been any high school musical but the power of their stories and the energy and emotion they used to share those stories set this performance apart.

After the show, still thinking about the heavy themes, I ended up in the tiny lobby packed with the excited actors and their proud parents, siblings, and friends.  Youth were selling stylish merchandise to support the work of the organization, and everyone looked like they were enjoying what they were doing!  The party spilled out onto the street as members of the cast gathered in front of the theater, still filled with the energy of the evening.

The evening was beautiful and powerful for me because I had been witness to something special, something that must have been transformative for those involved.  The stories that were shared were vivid reminders of how much healing many young people need, and how it only happens when others are there to lean on and be supportive.  Many of the speakers at the Ed Justice Symposium spoke of the critical importance of youth believing in themselves.  Putting together a full-length musical in two months and presenting it to a full house is, in my mind, all about believing in yourself.

From Wait Time to Creative Time

In September 2013, the New York Probation Office published “Free Verse,” the first issue of a poetry journal that emerged from the thoughts of those waiting in the probation office at the Bronx Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON), a collaborative of community organizations, government agencies, local businesses, and community residents focused on connecting probation clients who live in the neighborhood with opportunities, resources and services.

As described in its opening pages,

Free Verse is a journal of poetry, prose, and song that promotes turning waiting time into creative time. Headquartered in the heart of the waiting room of the new South Bronx NeOn – where probation clients check-in with their probation officers – FreeVerse solicits new writing created while people wait.

As described in Gwen McClure’s article on the Juvenile Justice Exchange, “Free Verse” was the brainchild of Loni Tanner, Chief Change Officer for the NYC Department of Design and Construction and Executive Director of See ChangeNYC, as well as Dave Johnson, the Poet-in-Residence at South Bronx NeOn. Tanner informally named the program, in its existence since April 2013, “Not School”—an acknowledgment that learning for young people does not need to only be confined within classroom walls. Instead, learning opportunities exist in the most unexpected places.  For Johnson, the program was a movement with a larger purpose than literacy and learning. As he explains,

This is a lot more than poetry; this is an opportunity to be welcomed back into society.

Thankfully, this innovative program has continued, recently releasing its Winter 2014 edition . Below are a few of my favorites from the collection:

I believe

in justice for all,

though no one opens a door.

in opportunity,

though the best ones don’t reach me.

in freedom, in equality,

but mostly I believe

in me.



The Good Fight

One day I will not have to fight you,

the partner I was given in this lottery of life

that looked so promising until the drawing

as each number was pulled, it was clear, it was not a winner,

just another one to go with the other ones

in a pile of must forget yesterdays.

One day I will not have to fight the voices in my head

of people’s words placed wrongly in my spirit,

the words that should have rolled off my back,

but somehow, were deposited in my future.

One day I will not have to fight the urge to write about the sorrows

that have been my tomorrows, before tomorrow has even gotten here.

One day I will fight the good fight of keeping

the roaring laughter from my belly, fighting to make it out like a raging lion.

One day I will fight to open the cocoon, to let the butterflies I protected, go free.

You’ll never know the pressure I endured, to be cut, into the diamond you see.




I’m a life.

I’m not just passing by.


Breaking Barriers Through Storytelling in an ATDP

Earlier in the academic year, I was asked to ponder the following question as part of my coursework for the Youth Media and Educational Justice seminar:

What do educators need to consider when court-involved youth – reentry, on probation, in foster care — are in their classrooms and schools (and programs)?

In response, I offered the following:

In thinking about this question, I was reminded of Virginia Shabatay’s (1991) piece “The Stranger’s Story” Who Calls and Who Answers?” in which she poignantly asks, “How do those of us in the helping professions discover the strangers among us? How can we develop sensitive caring relationships with those who feel set apart?” (p. 137). In her eloquent treatise, she posits, “We bring certain attitudes to those whom we don’t know: suspicion, mistrust, caution, and bias, or trust, openness, and welcome” (p. 137). Accordingly, she urges readers to use stories as ways to discover what strangers have to teach. She explains, “Stories allow us to break through barriers and to share in another’s experience; they warm us. Like a rap on the window, they call us to attention” (p. 137). Shabatay’s insights resonate with me as ways in which entering into dialogue and exchanging stories can combat strangehood in our classrooms, schools, programs, and research.

Since the time of this assignment, I have had the opportunity to begin volunteering work every Thursday as a mentor at an alternative to detention site in New York City. During each visit, I have the privilege of witnessing and participating in the embodiment of Shabatay’s words— the sharing of stories that allow space for possible connection between participants, staff, and volunteers. Around the small conference table, youth who because of their current situation often feel “set apart,” are approached not with “suspicion, mistrust, caution, or bias” but with “trust, openness, and welcome.” Through dialogue and narrative, a community is formed that is mindful of and active in recognizing and then disabling the human tendency to judge, to categorize, and to stereotype. Through human exchange, we no longer are strangers. We are companions. It truly is a remarkable place and each visit pushes me to consider ways in which more spaces and places can be created for court-involved youth and others to “break through the barriers and to share in another’s experience.”

Love Letter III: Dear J.

The third piece in my series of love letters dedicated to the experiences and people that touch me throughout the course of this semester. The latest, I letter to my student who sustained a gunshot in the stomach two weeks ago, and how I’ve been processing it all since.

*     *      *     *     *

Dear J.,

I hope this letter finds you well.

Well. Such a bland, insignificant word that often claims nothing more than mediocre ties to caring.

How are you feeling?

Feeling. We ask as if physical and mental emotions can be tersely conflated into a one word response like “good.”

We need to do better.

My heart

is heavy.

Heavy—of great weight; difficult to lift or move.

Heavy, a tangible mass, like what we feel when lifting our grocery bags or a small child up from the ground and into our arms

allowing for the contents to settle,

finding their places on the shelves of our hips, in the nooks of our arms and caverns of our eyes.

Bulbous tears have continued to drop from these eyes for the last seven days,

every time I end the second sentence of this story with, “…shot”.

I’ve told eight people about what happened to you.

Eight people have given me their ears, their eyes, their hearts, their hugs, their attention.

They have listened as I’ve unfolded the details of what went down last Thursday night:

                  You’d been shot in the belly.

                  It was gang-related.

                 You were in the ICU for the entire weekend, under a pseudonym so no one could find                    you, but you’re home now, resting.

                You lost three quarters of the blood in your body.

               And when the cops, standing on the steps of their precinct, saw you stumble forward                      towards the ground they rushed over and began interrogating you—asking you whether                  you were high or drunk.

              It wasn’t until they pulled you up to your feet, and you screamed out in pain, that they                      realized you had a bullet in your belly…

I can’t stop thinking about you—there is a stream of still and moving images playing on a loop in my mind, accompanied by an internal monologue of questions,

wondering about the moments building to crescendo—

who spoke the last words, what were they? Does it matter? Are you scared?

But this mentally isolated indie film streaming on my brain waves and plucking at my heartstrings is fabricated, imagined, “flattened by my seeing.”[1]

I have to examine how the “physical structures of our seeing and the patterns of thought these mechanisms create, among them spectating, consuming, and flattening, mis-take the world”[2]

You see, J., I’ve been retraumatizing myself over the course of this week. I continue thinking about this event, imagining not what it must be like to get shot; not even to self-deprecatingly wonder “what I could have done to save you.” No. I keep replaying this moment as my way of connecting with you and to the human emotions associated with trauma.

Because this notion of “gang violence” has become a soapy word in our American vernacular and on the 6 o’clock news.

While we might listen to these reports for an affirmation that a shooting took place somewhere deep in the South Bronx, or in Brownsville, or in the Heights—you know, a place where we “know these things take place” because the kids there are violent, illiterate, dangerous

—we don’t hear these stories, who these young people are,

nor do we pause to think about the institutional forces, the dominant narratives, and the normalized practices that are at play, convincing us that this is simply endemic of certain populations. It’s their problem, not ours.

We must ask ourselves, “Does the multiplicity of seeing tragedy compound the horror

or do the repetitive views overwhelm and desensitize?”[3]

This is the ‘closest’ I’ve been to knowing someone who’s been shot,

and I’m overwhelmingly aware of what a privilege it is for me to say this; for this to be my reality.

It’s not a feeling of guilt or naiveté; it’s the weight of the awareness, of the borders and worlds that I am straddling right now. I am working to reconcile my simultaneous locations in them all, and understanding that reconciliation is really neither feasible nor covetable.

This is difficult knowledge[4] we’re dealing with.

That’s not an excuse or prescription, but rather a description; a naming of place, and space and time that deserves attention and love. Or else the knowledge will become dangerous and polarizing (more so than perhaps it already is).

All this said, I want you to know, J, that I see you.

Though I may sometimes be looking at you…sometimes looking after you.

Please know that more than anything, I’m striving to see with you.[5]

Recover strong, heal well, and be safe.



Even before you got hurt, I looked for you in the hallway every Monday and Thursday, when you weren’t coming to school on a regular basis.

I stood against the wall, perching my heels at a 45-degree angle against the plaster and linoleum, scanning faces for yours

I walked up and down the hall once or twice, bobbing and weaving past individuals, then groups of friends, squirming through the hallways, occupying as much room as they can (and they should—they’ve been locked up in classrooms since 8am).

For the past month, I’ve come up empty handed every time, yet still kept looking.

And then today, I hadn’t started my search for you yet, I was going to get settled in my classroom first and there you were.

        You’re so much smaller than you were two months ago.

I try to make eye contact with you three times from across the hall, I try to wave, unsure if you see me.

I’m fighting off the guidance counselor who is handing me a survey the students have to fill out—that asks questions that we require them to place themselves in boxes, to represent their answers with “x”s; to place themselves back in the boxes that I am so committed to working with them to break out of.

I’m fighting off students streaming down the hallway, backpacks swinging, sneakers squeaking, laughter so loud, but it feels so far away.

I walk over and I know that you’ve seen me at this point. You’re clumsily putting your jacket on, pretending to be busy, being a 17-year-old.

You look up and make eye contact with me—I timidly unroll my arms to a curved wingspan, so incredibly unsure if this is ok. If I can come into contact with you. To hug you.

You mirror my limbs, a small smile on your face, and you hug me.

It lasts only a brief moment before we pull back.

I ask you how you are.


I ask you how you’re feeling.


And then I’ve go no other questions, not the slightest idea of what to say to you next…

I am not qualified for this shit…

…but it’s alright.

Since the last love letter I’ve realized that my lack of qualifications actually makes me one of the most qualified people to be having these experiences. To have these young people in my life. They are providing me with moments and glimmers of, and access to realities other than mine, which will slowly equip me with the qualifications to know that this “shit” can never truly be mastered, but that it is in the experiences I gain expertise in the willingness of unknowing.[6]

Post-script, written in the afternoon following the morning’s love letter.

[1] Gaudelli, W. (2011, p.1246)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Britzman, D. (1998, cited by W. Gaudelli, 2011)

[5] Gaudelli, W. (2011)

[6] Vasudevan (2010)

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