Young Advocates Changing Criminal Justice

Print Friendly

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” said the great organizer, Mahatma Gandhi.

That one sentence may make you feel responsible for the problems of the world, or it might make you feel passionate about creating change.

My job is to help the young people of the Each One Teach One (EOTO) youth leadership program stand at the point where those paths cross.

EOTO trains youth to become involved in the public debate on juvenile justice reform. By participating in the program, young people step into the worlds of organizing, activism, media, and politics.

The Juvenile Justice Project launched EOTO in the summer of 2004. The diverse curriculum examines injustices within the juvenile justice system, the power of community organizing, how to change the city budget, and the effects of media on youth criminalization. Guest speakers have facilitated workshops on everything from young people’s rights when stopped by the police to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in juvenile detention facilities.

Twenty-seven youth advocates completed the program in the summer and fall of last year. We are currently in our third session, and have extended the program from 10 to 15 weeks. The 14 young people who currently participate come from neighborhoods in Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx that have the city’s highest rates of juvenile detention.

In keeping with our emphasis on establishing a youth-led movement, several young interns help us run the program. Diamond Dessaline, Keean Jones and Darren Mason are our interns for the current session. Diamond and Keean graduated from the fall session of EOTO; Darren comes to us from the internship program at CASES (Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services). They help facilitate the workshops and prepared the youth for the Juvenile Justice Coalition’s Advocacy Day on March 29.

One of the goals of EOTO is to put a face on the youth who are involved in juvenile justice reform efforts. We are working on two multimedia projects—a website for the program and a video documentary—in which EOTO participants will share their stories and highlight why they want to change the juvenile justice system.

The young people in Each One Teach One have a positive vision for themselves and their peers. The program gives them the tools they need to make their vision a reality, to transform dehumanizing, punitive juvenile justice policies, and to create a bright society for every youth.