On Saturday Nov. 3rd, the Richmond community joined RISE For Youth, Art 180, and Performing Statistics to honor and celebrate the voices, dreams and demands of youth affected by the school-to-prison pipeline.
The community, composed of speakers, dancers, singers, poets and other performers gathered at gather outside of Hotchkiss Community Center to raise awareness about school push-out.
The Justice Parade For Youth, organized by the youth, for the youth, featured music, chants, and murals all created by incarcerated youth. The young people of RISE For Youth, a non-partisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration, were the lead organizers of this march.
Over the summer a group of incarcerated teens came together to share how the juvenile justice system is broken and the reality of being an incarcerated youth. A project of Art 180 called Performing Statistics created a space where incarcerated youth can share their experiences. Performing Statistics partnered with artists mentors teachers and other advocates to allowed teens to share their experiences through powerful art from virtual reality, rap, to murals.
I marched because Virginia has the most referrals from school to prison in America, that Black students face harsher punishment than white students. We are 3 times more likely to be suspended and 7 times more likely to be incarcerated than our white counterparts. Black youth are seen as less innocent as early as preschool. The school to prison pipeline stems from neglecting and severely punishing Black kids, for “having an attitude” and “being aggressive”. It starts with zero tolerance policies that push Black youth out of school regarding our natural hair.
I speak from experience. My natural hair was often viewed as a distraction to my white counterparts. Being the only Black child in the whole grade, I was disciplined for actions my white counterparts engaged in. My white teachers gave me negative attention or no attention at all. They accused me of threatening to kill a white girl, and being aggressive for defending myself from bullying and harassment when I was as young as nine years old. Feeling unaccepted by my white peers and profiled by my teachers, I internalized the idea that my Blackness wasn’t desirable. I lost my desire to thrive and excel in school which made me more susceptible to school push out.
Recently a decision was made to put more cops in Chesterfield County Schools to end school shootings. But what does that mean for Black students who have to choose between their safety and their education? Does this mean that more Black students will be violently flipped, dragged and body slammed by those whose job it is to serve and protect?
More cops, more zero tolerance policies and more metal detectors in schools will not help. We need to invest in schools, mentors, restorative justice, conflict resolution and job opportunities. We want to see more teachers and less police.
Written by Stephanie Younger, a 16-year-old student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for Womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention