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Who are you?

“Who are you?
Please, tell me anything you would like to.”

 

This narrative is the story of an encounter. It is her narrative, it is mine, it is ours, it is the present. How could we represent it?

            “Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created.” (Morrison, 1993)

How do I connect with someone at a first encounter? What is the meaning of our experiences? How could the narrative be voiced without being manipulated by the producer?

  “Perceiving something from two different angles creates a split in awareness” (Anzaldua, 2003, p.549).

The process of making this video was the whole purpose. The final production simply engages the audience to listen, listen, and listen again.

What narrative(s) are you hearing? Are you certain? At which moment, do you connect with the voice? What does listening means? What does understanding means? How do multimodal artistic pieces impact your life? How do you build from it?

If a space for possibilities is created, youth will take the opportunity.

“We have the power because we are together in speech and action, and because possibility spreads before us, and because there are boundaries to break through.” (Maxine Greene, 1982, p.9)

Now, plug your headphone, click on the link, and listen.

 

References
Anzaldua, G.A. (2003). now let us shift. This bridge we call home.  (p. 540-579).
Greene, M. (1982). Public Education and the Public space. In Educational Researcher.
Morisson, T. (1993). The Nobel Prize in Literature 1993. Retrieved from: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-lecture.html

Being there

Being there is a term that came up a lot in our conversations in the YMEJ graduate seminar this year.  In discussing ways to re-imagine experiences for court involved youth, our conversations often circled back to the support networks people require in order to live.  Michel Bérubé (1996) makes a similar point in his book, Life as we Know It about his family and his son Jamie who has down syndrome. In his discussion of Jamie’s growth and development Bérubé notes that people with labeled disabilities are not the only ones who require a strong support network in order to survive and thrive.  In fact, everyone benefits from such a network.

Our conversations in YMEJ centered on how to “be there” for a court involved young person, and for each other. We discussed the importance for all people (and especially young people) of having at least one person in your life who is going to stand by you no matter what.  Beam (2013) has a similar theme when she quotes a participant’s phrase: “You gotta rock with a kid all the way”.

For me, the phrase “Being there” brings up memories of a movie with the same title starring Peter Sellars (the last movie released while he was alive).  The film is a comedy, but also poignant in conceptualizing the phrase being there.  The main arch of the film is that Chance (Sellar’s character), a gardener for a large estate has always been there.  For all intents he is a non-entity, yet when people meet him, they mistake him for the owner of the estate and begin projecting their own thoughts and ideas about him.  My point in bringing up the film (beyond the fact that it is fantastic and I highly recommend watching it) is that being there is itself a passive sentiment.  I do not mean this as a critique, but to point out the multitude of ways to support another person without infusing your own thoughts, ideas, actions etc. As the movie highlights, being there is a passive, yet powerful act.

It is especially powerful when you consider the complications that inundate the various systems for court-involved youth.  Being there for someone, rocking with them all the way, sounds somewhat simplistic.  Of course, people engaging in this work will tell you it is far from simple. In truth, sometimes being there is not enough.  But it is a place to start and something I believe, all people can decide to do.  I think it helps when you collaborate, if you are going to be there for a young person, you need to have someone who is there for you.

In the YMEJ seminar we created a community that is by no means perfect, but I do think it is comprised of people who are willing to be there for each other. Being there for each other and by extension the people in our lives, we begin to weave a powerful network.  It helps me sustain through the difficulties of this work.  It helps me imagine the possibilities for making small shifts in the larger systems.  This work cannot be done alone.  Being there for each other is an integral first step.

Becoming through our [future] work

The YMEJ graduate year-long seminar ended this week with an exhibition in Russell Library.  Each member of our course conducted a year-long inquiry through participation in the course and a mentoring experience.  Lalitha, one of the members of the teaching team, wrote a note to us on the course blog entitled, Becoming… which focused on our continued growth and development during the course and beyond. In the text, Arts, Media and Justice co-edited by Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes, Vasudevan quotes Maxine Greene “I am what I am not yet”. Though I am at the end of my experience in the YMEJ course, I do not see the work as finished and I look forward to building upon my experience as I continue my doctoral career.  Since I began my course work at TC I have begun to look more deeply and pay more attention, one area that YMEJ helped me hone was my attention to media and the different types of media that are produced, specifically around issues of court involved youth.

In my own work, I am sinking myself into disability studies in education and the possibilities this stance provides for thinking about teaching and learning for all young people.  Therefore, when I saw the recent print advertisement for New Alternatives for Children (NAC), I felt it was a perfect connection between the YMEJ course and my own interest in disability studies.  New Alternatives for Children is a “child welfare agency child welfare agency exclusively devoted to serving children with severe disabilities and chronic illnesses” (http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1854796).

The recent ad campaign (both print and televised) is produced by Grey New York and is titled, “Rethinking Foster Care” and geared at educating (or perhaps re-educating) New Yorkers about foster care in the city and especially for those young people with labeled disabilities.  First, how do we as recent participants in YMEJ seminar ourselves involved (and for many committed to) in re-thinking or re-imagining space for court involved youth analyze a video spot, such as the one for NAC?  Their campaign is called, “Rethinking Foster Care” but based on the video, I do not think they are rethinking the experience of foster care for young people with labeled disabilities.  Instead, I would argue they are perpetuating deficit-based conceptualizations of the young people the organization aims to serve.   This is a difficulty and beauty of interdisciplinary work.  As terms or ideas stretch across different ideologies and philosophies, it is up to the people using them to make an attempt at conversation, collaboration and shared understanding. Difficult work and that is also messy.

My first viewing of the television spot brought me back to something Cris Beam (2013) writes about in To the End of June when she discusses the different reasons people adopt children.  One reason Beam discusses is altruism. Mary, a participant in her book states, “People should do it because the kids need. Otherwise, they are going to be disappointed” (p. 94).  I think advertisements like the one for NAC complicates this statement because of the way people with labeled disabilities are positioned throughout history.  Often seen as the neediest of the needy, in fact, sometimes this is referred to as narcissism (Siebers, 2008) and becomes an albatross for a person with a labeled disability who requires help and support.  But not due to vanity or self-love, as it is sometimes positioned in society.  And it is true, kids do need and the NAC commercial makes this clear.  It also has an underlying savior mission.

Since the disability rights movements in the 1960’s and 70’s and the development of the scholarly field of disability studies people have been analyzing and theorizing about the disability itself.  Many disability studies scholars view disability as a socially constructed and note that the environment in which a person with a disability lives is disabling.  This takes the concept of disability outside of the person, moving away from a medical model that maintains disability as a problem within a person that should/could be fixed.  While the NAC commercial does not position youth in foster care with disabilities as needing to be fixed, they do use the term special several times.  Making the claim that a special child needs a special parent.  Furthermore, the article states that many young people with disabilities live in hospitals or other long term care facilities because their parents are unable to care for them http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1854796).

I wonder (as Beam discusses in her book) what types of supports and structures should be offered to birth families to support care for all children? Also, what do we learn from the distinction made between types of children and how they are positioned through foster care/adoption?  How does this support thinking about our own definition of re-thinking or re-imagining? Finally, as we (the YMEJ graduate seminar students) are becoming  how do we continue to use this class to inform our future teaching, research, and ways of being in the world?

Here is a link to the television spot:  http://vimeo.com/92176294

More information of New Alternatives for Children: https://www.nackidscan.org/what_we_do/index.php

Information on the advertising agency: http://grey.com/us

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.

Details

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!)

Rehabilitation vs. Criminalization: The Need to Rethink Juvenile Justice Programs in New York

An editorial from this week’s New York Times, “When Children Become Criminals,” engages the question: at what age and under what circumstances should a minor be tried as an adult? This is in response to Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, recently announcing that he would be putting together a commission to develop a plan (recommended changes in laws and procedures) for raising the age for adult criminal prosecution by the end of 2014. Nearly 40,000 adolescents are sent through the New York criminal courts every year, most charged with nonviolent crimes like shoplifting, jumping the turnstile in subway, or possession of marijuana. As is well known, Black and Latino young people, especially young men, are highly overrepresented in New York’s court-involved youth population. One of the major takeaways from the article is the mention of the effects of putting children as young as 16-years-old through the adult court system:

Federally financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more violent crimes later on and are more likely to become career criminals than those sent though juvenile courts, where they receive counseling and family support. Beyond that, neurological science has shown that adolescents are less able to assess risks and make the kinds of mature decisions that would keep them out of trouble.

In 2007, Connecticut raised the age of criminal prosecution from 16 to 18, a law which took full effect in 2012. The state has also adopted new strategies for court-involved young people based on “rehabilitation, not lockups,” working to reduce arrests and save the state money. The Connecticut Legislature created a council of experts from law enforcement, mental health, and other fields to coordinate policy changes. The interdisciplinary collaboration is significant. Connecticut has ceased trying cases involving “nonthreatening adolescent misbehaviors,” like possession of tobacco. Most importantly, the state invested in counseling and intervention programs that “allow young people to make amends for minor misdeeds without going to court.”

I was surprised to learn that New York is one of only two states (North Carolina is the other one) in which 16-year-olds are still automatically tried as adults.  The New York law came into effect with the state’s creation of the juvenile justice system under the Family Court Act in 1962. Unable to agree on an age at which offenders should be declared adults, lawmakers temporarily set it at 16, but “…as often happens with public policy, inertia set in and ‘temporary’ became permanent.” More than 250,000 youth under the age of 18 are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults each year. And in New York, almost 90% of boys released from juvenile incarceration are arrested again.

As mentioned above, there have been growing conversations about the repercussions of sending young people through the criminal court system as opposed to providing them with rehabilitation services that might help to address underlying emotional, physical, mental, sociocultural, and environmental factors influencing behaviors. When young people are labeled as criminals or delinquents and tried as adults, their education is disturbed, their psyche is affected, and their re-entry into school and life can be extremely difficult and damaging, especially as they are going through crucial developmental stages of pre-adolescence and adolescence.

In addition, critics argue that many detention centers wrongly focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation for young people. In a recent article on activists’ call for juvenile justice system reforms, AlJazeera America, highlights a new campaign working to change the procedures that the justice system uses with children and adolescents. It’s called Raise the Age:

Raise the Age New York is a public awareness campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions that have come together to increase public awareness of the need to implement a comprehensive approach to raise the age of criminal responsibility in NYS so that the legal process responds to all children as children and services and placement options better meet the rehabilitative needs of all children and youth.

I encourage you to check out the Raise the Age website and learn more about the reasons for the campaign and the holistic impact that raising the age could potentially have on the state’s juvenile justice system.

Reading the NYT article and learning about the Raise the Age campaign served as reminders about how the juvenile justice system needs a lot of work, but it is also highlights how imperative it is that we–society, educators, activists, parents, mentors, allies–work hard to challenge dominant narratives about “juvenile delinquents.” It is easy, especially in a sensational-news-saturated world to make snap judgements about young people incarcerated at a young age (who continue to lead lives of crime and punishment). Instead of just accepting the idea that young criminals look or act a certain way, lead certain lifestyles, or have the ability to make different choices but choose a life of crime instead, I encourage us all to take a step back and think about the programs and procedures that are set up to address and hopefully prevent such lifestyles and trajectories. Let’s think about productive and meaningful ways to support young men, in particular, labeled as failures and delinquents before they even grow facial hair.

How can we raise awareness? What kinds of conversations can we have? What new strategies and laws must be put in place in order for legitimate change to occur? Ask yourself these questions, pose them to others, and find more answers at Raise the Age.

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.

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