Photo courtesy of Mark Strandquist/Performing Statistics

By Stephanie Younger • 

On the evening of Friday, November 3, 2017, hundreds in Richmond, Virginia participated in the Juvenile Justice Parade, calling for the closure of youth prisons in Virginia. Marchers wore silk-screen t-shirts that read, “guide us, don’t criminalize us,” and carried banners and signs created by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black youth. We marched from City Hall to Abner Clay Park, where we heard from performers, including poets and step teams. The chants were written by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black youth who are experiencing the trauma by the youth prison system.

“Fund education, not incarceration! Invest in us, invest in us!”

“Respect our minds, remember our truth, don’t lock us up, free the youth, free the youth!”

“Look at our youth, look at their ambition, that’s why we need to close youth prisons!”

“Prisons don’t work!”

This march was organized by RISE For Youth, a “nonpartisan campaign committed to dismantling the youth prison model by promoting the creation of community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.” Every year, RISE partners with Art 180 and Performing Statistics for an art intensive for incarcerated Black youth here in Richmond, who created the art that marchers held on Friday evening. Art 180 is an RVA-based organization that gives Richmond youth the space to express themselves through art to create social change. Performing Statistics works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth, and utilizes art advocate for alternatives to the youth prison system.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, Black girls in Virginia were suspended 5.2 times the rate of white girls in the 2015-2016 school year. The Legal Aid Justice Center reports that Virginia has the most school-to-prison pipelines in the country, disproportionately referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons. RISE’s acronym stands for “Reinvesting In Supportive Environments for Youth,” and they aim to disrupt that system.

It was imperative to attend the Juvenile Justice Parade, not only because Virginia led the country of referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons, but also because this march was organized in the former capital of the Confederacy. The Black youth who shared their voices at this march are carrying the baton that was passed by the Black abolitionists who came before us. As a young Black feminist and an abolitionist who lives in the former capital of the Confederacy, I believe that our voices must be centered in the fight to abolish the youth prison system in Virginia, and everywhere.

Stephanie Younger is a 15-year-old Black student, aspiring computer programmer, poet, writer and a Central Virginia based activist.

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