Photo courtesy of Mark Strandquist/Performing Statistics

By Stephanie Younger • 

Richmond, Virginia is the former capital of the Confederacy. Nowadays, 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 school to prison. RISE For Youth aims to disrupt that system. Given R.I.S.E’s acronym standing for “Reinvesting In Supportive Environments for Youth,” they are 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 agency to express themselves through art to create social change. Performing Statistics utilizes art advocate for alternatives to the youth prison system.

On the evening of Friday, November 3, 2017, hundreds in Richmond marched for the closure of youth prisons in Virginia, organized by the people of Performing Statistics, RISE For Youth, and Art 180. We wore silk-screen t-shirts that read, “guide us, don’t criminalize us,” and carried banners, signs and art created by incarcerated Black and brown youth in Virginia. “Respect our minds, remember our truth, don’t lock us up, free the youth, free the youth!” was one of the powerful protest chants written by youth who have and are experiencing the trauma of being in the juvenile justice system.

Learning about the work of Black Panthers, and Black feminists galvanized me into learning more about how abolition intersects with Black feminism, and knowing that prisons don’t work. Being a Black girl, an intersectional feminist and an abolitionist in the former capital of the Confederacy, it was significant to attend this march. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Black girls were suspended 5.2 times the rate of white girls in the 2015-2016 school year. Black youth, especially Black girls in the capital of the Confederacy must be centered in the fight to abolish youth prisons 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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