Home News Center YJLI Fellow Nanyamka Shukura Creating Comprehensive, Youth-led Organizing Campaign

YJLI Fellow Nanyamka Shukura Creating Comprehensive, Youth-led Organizing Campaign

August 14, 2018
Josh Gordon

Nanyamka A. Shukura is a 2017-18 fellow in NJJN's Youth Justice Leadership Institute (YJLI), a year-long program that clears a broad path for people of color to lead us toward justice system reform. YJLI seeks to elevate the leadership of people of color who know how to transform the oppressive systems harming communities of color.

Nanyamka is a senior community advocate at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Her focus is in education equity and juvenile justice to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline affecting children across the state of Alabama.

We spoke with Nanyamka about her background and advocacy project.

What got you into youth justice reform?
When I was a freshman in high school, I jumped the line in the cafeteria. After refusing to get out of line as instructed by a school staff member, a school resource officer (SRO), a full-time employee of the Atlanta Police Department, was called. When the SRO ordered me to get out of line, I refused and the incident immediately escalated from a student failing to following direction from school staff, typically resulting in after school detention, to a student disobeying the direct order of an officer of the law, giving him authority to use force against me. I was dragged through the cafeteria by my arm in front of my peers, and while heading to the office, the SRO told me that I was going to be charged with inciting a riot. By grace, a teacher intervened on my behalf before anything worse could happen. Nevertheless, my life changed forever that day. That incident compelled me to be an advocate for youth. I know countless stories of students from my community and across the country that share my experience, but do not share my same level of intervention and outcome. I was thankfully able to make an age appropriate mistake and not have that mistake follow me for the rest of my life.

Tell us about your advocacy project.
My advocacy project will create a youth-led, comprehensive, local education advocacy and organizing effort in two Alabama school districts. My year-long goals are: (1) to build awareness among students, families, and community members about the negative effects of over-policing youth in education settings; (2) to advocate for the creation of and/or changes to local education policy; and (3) to assist in developing comprehensive agreements between school districts and police departments. In addition, my long-term goal for this project is to use the work product created, as well as the community and stakeholder education efforts I engage in, as a foundation to build: (1) statewide education policy changes; and (2) comprehensive trainings and related model memoranda of understanding or agreement (MOU/MOA) for law enforcement officers working in education settings.

What motivates you/keeps you going?
My faith, the community, and the future motivate me. Having strong faith has given me the strength needed to continue this hard work, and reminds me that I must be courageous in the pursuit of justice. My community, family, friends, neighbors, and the families I become a part of through my work give me the real life representation of the issues. They provide the stories, insight to solutions, and stand together in power to remind me who I am doing this work for and its importance. And as far as the future is concerned, James Baldwin said it best, “These are all our children’s we will either profit by, or pay for whatever they become.” I became an advocate because in the past someone stood up or advocated for me!

What’s your dream youth justice goal?
My dream youth justice goal is to create a world where the whole child is supported; where all young people can dream big, knowing they will have necessary resources to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or where they come from. My goals are to see a world with more education, more graduations, and a world where there is no such thing as youth incarceration.

Before joining SPLC in 2010, Nanyamka was a community organizer starting at the age of 15. She has worked with many different organizations across the South, Midwest, and West Coast, working on various issues in the field of social justice. Her areas of work have included youth education and justice, housing rights and economic justice, and gender and LGBT rights. She is a graduate of Savannah State University, a Historically Black College and University in Savannah, GA.

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