Supporting Leaders in the Transformative Justice Movement

Posted June 20, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young leaders in the justice movement

A cadre of untapped, often-over­looked young lead­ers per­son­al­ly affect­ed by incar­cer­a­tion and vio­lence are being primed to lead a move­ment toward trans­for­ma­tive jus­tice. Fun­ders can best sup­port their lead­er­ship through men­tor­ship, com­pen­sa­tion and by defer­ring to their experience.

Those were the con­clu­sions of a recent eval­u­a­tion of the inau­gur­al Peer2Peer Exchange Pro­gram man­aged by the Com­mu­ni­ty Jus­tice Net­work for Youth (CJNY). The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is part­ner­ing with CJNY to sup­port youth of col­or as they spear­head trans­for­ma­tive pol­i­cy move­ments. In addi­tion, the Foun­da­tion is study­ing how CJNY built a nation­al mem­ber­ship base of young lead­ers work­ing to make youth-serv­ing sys­tems more equitable.

CJNY mobi­lizes young peo­ple across the coun­try who have been involved with the jus­tice sys­tem and pro­vides them with a plat­form to advo­cate for changes to poli­cies and laws.

Our work with CJNY has strength­ened our under­stand­ing of the field,” says Sele­na Tan, a pro­gram asso­ciate at the Foun­da­tion. We his­tor­i­cal­ly use data to dic­tate our pol­i­cy agen­da, but it’s impor­tant to get a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion of how the strat­e­gy of cen­ter­ing direct­ly-affect­ed young lead­ers can dri­ve long-last­ing results.”

Twen­ty-one non­prof­it pro­fes­sion­als under the age of 29 were cho­sen to take part in the year­long Peer2Peer fel­low­ship pro­gram, which pro­vid­ed train­ing in lead­er­ship skills, media engage­ment, pub­lic speak­ing and entrepreneurship.

There’s tremen­dous inter­est among young adult lead­ers in find­ing a sense of com­mu­ni­ty while doing trans­for­ma­tive jus­tice work,” says Tra­cy Ben­son, direc­tor at CJNY. CJNY is an ini­tia­tive of the W. Hay­wood Burns Insti­tute, which has helped sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce racial dis­par­i­ties in prison sys­tems across the country. 

Research shows that youth and child­hood trau­ma can lead to dev­as­tat­ing health con­se­quences. Con­verse­ly, pro­vid­ing young adults the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lead in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting has been shown to make them more resilient against those outcomes.

The fel­low­ship includ­ed peri­od­ic peer exchanges in which par­tic­i­pants shared strug­gles to over­come bar­ri­ers they had in com­mon, such as the stig­ma asso­ci­at­ed with incar­cer­a­tion. They also shared suc­cess­ful strate­gies from their respec­tive orga­ni­za­tions, like tips on how to use the lessons of per­son­al expe­ri­ence to influ­ence policy.

We’ve heard time and time again from the Peer2Peer fel­lows that this was the first time they didn’t have to explain every­thing — what it meant to be incar­cer­at­ed or what it meant to be from their neigh­bor­hood,” Ben­son says.

Eval­u­a­tors found that, while the fel­low­ship had val­ue for the par­tic­i­pants, con­fu­sion over roles and over­sight ham­pered its suc­cess. Draw­ing from those find­ings, Ben­son has sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions for oth­ers look­ing to empow­er youth leaders:

  • Ensure that train­ings are cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate and accessible.
  • Pri­or­i­tize using accred­it­ed train­ers with sim­i­lar back­grounds and experiences.
  • Work close­ly with host orga­ni­za­tions on a pay struc­ture to sup­port their staff mem­bers’ pro­fes­sion­al development.
  • Offer ther­a­peu­tic sup­port to par­tic­i­pants, since the program’s empha­sis on trau­ma can cause young peo­ple to reex­pe­ri­ence their own.

See how Casey is expand­ing job prospects for young adults of color

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