By Stephanie Younger •
On the evening of Friday, November 3, hundreds in Richmond, Virginia attended the Juvenile Justice Parade, organized by RISE For Youth, Art 180 and Performing Statistics calling for the closure of youth prisons in Virginia. People began marching at City Hall, wearing silk-screen t-shirts that read, “Guide Us, Don’t Criminalize Us” and holding banners and signs created by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black youth. The march ended in Abner Clay Park, where we heard from performers, including poets and step teams. Additionally, the chants were written by the Black youth. Just to name a few:
“Fund education, not incarceration! Invest in us, invest in us!”
“Prisons don’t work!”
“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!”
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.” RISE’s acronym stands for “Reinvesting In Supportive Environments for Youth,” and they aim to disrupt and dismantle that system. Art 180 is an RVA-based organization that gives Richmond youth the space to express themselves through art to create social change, and Performing Statistics works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth, utilizing art to advocate for alternatives to the youth prison system. Every year, RISE partners with Art 180 and Performing Statistics for an art intensive for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black youth in Richmond, who created the same artwork that people carried on Friday evening’s march.
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. Recently, the Legal Aid Justice Center reported that Virginia has the most school-to-prison pipelines in the country, disproportionately referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons.
The Juvenile Justice Parade was organized in the former capital of the Confederacy, in a state that has led the country of referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons. 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 writer based in Central Virginia.