In New York last weekend, I experienced my first School-to-Prison-Pipeline Action camp. The camp was one of many regional camps organized by GSA Network, Advancement Project, Alliance for Educational Justice, and the Dignity in Schools Campaign. I'd heard the camps were amazing, but that hadn't prepared me for the depth of learning and passion (and hip-hop!) I would find.
In my first workshop, “Statewide Campaigns,” I learned about a fierce organization called Padres y Jovenes Unidos (PJE) in Colorado. PJE is a parent and youth-led organization that passed a model policy called “The Smart School Discipline Law.” This law advises schools to avoid referring students to law enforcement for minor misbehavior, reduces exclusionary punishments by matching punishments with the level of offense (ie. writing on a school desk and pushing another student cannot both be punished with suspensions), collects data on discipline incidents and tickets, tracks the information by race/ethnicity, age, and gender, and increases training for school resources officers that can be developed with input from the community. Inspired by the way that PJU moved many of their target legislators and power players in their state to support this law, we then proceeded to conduct a power analysis of our own organizations and our social justice agenda with other youth, parents, and educators from all over the Northeastern seaboard and parts of the South.
Thinking about our potential opposition or decision-makers that were undecided or uneducated about school push out, the next workshop on Communications and Messaging proved extremely useful. We learned how to create an overarching no-one-will-disagree-with message and complement it with our stories and data points about the ineffectiveness of increased punitive school discipline measures and criminal justice system environment and intimidation in our schools. My favorite learning moments always involve role-plays because I get to practice what I just learned and or watch someone in action try to think on their feet. This role play with a “reporter” and a “panel” was part of this great workshop put on by the awesome Ms. Maye of the Advancement Project.
Lastly, the night came together with an amazing hip-hop artist who eloquently portrayed the criminalization of our young people of color across the country through arts and culture performances and social media. Harkening back to the ‘90s with some nods to Biggie and other great rap artists, Jasiri X skillfully got his message across that all of us from all communities have a stake and a role to play in dismantling the school to prison pipeline. You should definitely check out some of his masterful work here.
This opportunity to witness movement building has been amazing, as we come together to advocate for safe, high-quality schools that care about our youth and give them the opportunity to succeed. Every student should be able to dream. I can’t wait to remain connected and move forward with partner organizations post-School-to-Prison-Pipeline Action Camp.