Mark Strandquist/Performing Statistics

By Stephanie Younger • 

On Friday, November 3rd, hundreds in Richmond, Virginia attended the Juvenile Justice Parade, organized by RISE For Youth, Art 180 and the Performing Statistics project calling for the closure of youth prisons in Virginia. This march embraced and uplifted the voices of Black youth affected by the school to-prison pipeline in Virginia (where they have occurred the most), by wearing silk screened t-shirts that read, “Guide Us, Don’t Criminalize Us”, holding up banners, and calling powerful protest chants, all created by incarcerated 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!”

The march began at City Hall, and ended in Abner Clay Park, where we heard from performers, including poets and step teams.

The Juvenile Justice Parade 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,” and they aim to disrupt and dismantle youth prisons in Virginia. 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 For Youth 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 during the march on Friday evening.

Recently, the Legal Aid Justice Center reported that Virginia has had the most school-to-prison pipelines in the country, disproportionately referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons. 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 Juvenile Justice Parade was organized in the former capital of the Confederacy, in a state that has led the country in referring Black and disabled youth from schools to prisons. The activists, artists, formerly incarcerated people and community members across various backgrounds stood in solidarity with incarcerated Black youth and made a statement that prisons don’t work, and that alternatives to youth incarceration should be made accessible.

The Black youth who shared their voices at Friday evening’s march are carrying the baton that was passed on to us by the Black abolitionists who came before us. It’s important to include Black girls in this conversation about mass incarceration and police brutality and to acknowledge Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, and the work of prison abolitionists such as Angela Davis. As a Black teenager, a Black feminist, and an abolitionist who lives in the former capital of the Confederacy, I believe that the voices of Black youth must be centered in the fight to abolish the youth prison system in Virginia, and everywhere.

View Malik Hall’s photo essay of the Juvenile Justice Parade on RVA Magazine

Stephanie Younger is a 15-year-old writer based in Central Virginia.