Home News Center Forum Recap: Roadmap to Anti-racism

Forum Recap: Roadmap to Anti-racism

July 30, 2021

NJJN is committed to doing the hard work of anti-racism in our youth justice movement building, because our reform work is insufficient if we do not confront the racism inherent in the system. During our recent Virtual Forum held on July 21, 2021, NJJN members and partners came together to build a roadmap to anti-racism by creatively envisioning what it takes to build organizations rooted in the liberation and equality that we all dream of working in. 

Using the Western States Anti-Racist Organizational Framework as our guide, we explored how our network can operate through an anti-racist lens, specifically as it relates to staff diversity in our advocacy work spaces, accountability to the leadership of youth and families most impacted by the youth legal system, processes for pursuing equitable policies, and organizational culture. Together, we created a roadmap to anti-racism, which includes: 

Ensuring our advocacy work spaces reflect the values of diversity and inclusion as well as equitable power distribution. This means…

  • Reframing job postings, interview questions and hiring criteria, educational requirements and compensation in order to prioritize hiring those with lived experience with the legal system.

  • Intentional recruitment of candidates who represent the communities served by advocacy organizations including BIPOC communities, young people, people with system-involvement, immigrants and those who speak languages other than English. 

  • Empowering BIPOC staff in their roles and ensuring those who are impacted by new hiring have a say in the recruitment and hiring process.

  • Ensuring a culture of self-care within our work spaces, which acknowledges systemic barriers to self-care practice; prioritizes well-being for employees; provides adequate vacation time, which is a critical element to self-care; and pays people what they are worth with comprehensive benefits to support sustainable health and well-being.

Holding ourselves accountable to the youth and families we serve. By this, we mean…

  • Creating space for system-involved youth and families learn, share, and lead our advocacy.

  • Employing young people and prioritizing their training so that they are able to lead public education campaigns, lobby, and debate issues on their own terms and using their own power.

  • Rejecting hierarchical operations in lieu of true youth and family partnerships that are grounded in community and prioritize youth and family involvement during every step of the change process.

Focusing our resources on policies and programs that actively deconstruct racism in our youth criminal legal system. We see this as…

  • Always using a race-equity analysis in all of our advocacy, campaigns, publications and efforts to transform the youth legal system.

  • Making restorative justice the standard response to youth making mistakes or getting in trouble with the law.

  • Following the lead of youth-led organizations with respect to what policies to pursue, letters to sign onto, and what funding to pursue or pass on to better position  grassroots organizations doing the work. 

  • Prioritizing specific policy changes that we know disproportionately harm Black and Brown youth, such as 

    - Removing felony murder and tack on crimes that should not apply to children
    - Getting rid of habitual offender laws
    - Ending de facto life sentences
    - Eliminating youth transfer to adult/circuit court
    - Fighting for accurate and publicly available data that reveals racial disparities

Ensuring the organizations and structures we build to transform the youth legal system indeed reflect our own anti-racist principles. To this, we must…

  • Ensure a safe environment where all people can bring their whole selves to spaces and where everyone’s race/ethnicity, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity and other important identities are affirmed, and create written policies which uphold such assurance. 

  • Place a greater emphasis on healing and managing emotional fatigue associated with being in this work, particularly for those who represent marginalized communities. 

  • Establish ways that advocates can find relief from harm, fatigue or burnout within our work spaces through efforts like “Fatigue Fridays” - working half days every other Fridays - or other innovative ideas for staff relief.

  • Create staff meetings that facilitate meaningful input from all members within our work spaces, regardless of title or position; allow people to call out any organizational practices that need to be stopped, started or continued in order to promote equitable power distribution; conduct consistent conversations about anti-racism. 

We know that the road to anti-racism is not easy, and that the journey happens along the continuum. Together, we affirm our commitment to the work of dismantling white supremacy, because we know it is the only way to reach a true place of justice for all people. We invite members of the NJJN network and allies to explore the resources we’ve already collected to aid in your anti-racism work, and we look forward to continuing to provide additional resources in the future. 

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