Home Our Work Youth Justice Leadership Institute: Building a Movement 2017 Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellows

2017 Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellows


The Youth Justice Leadership Institute is now in its seventh year, and we’re thrilled to introduce our newest cohort of fellows. They come from all over the country and are working on an exciting array of issues in juvenile justice reform. We know they’re set to accomplish great things for youth in trouble with the law—please join us in welcoming them.

Watch why our fellows are excited about the year ahead here.

Bios and Interviews

Cheyenne Blackburn | New Orleans, LA

Cheyenne Blackburn is currently an Outreach Paralegal in the Children’s Rights Practice Group of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she passionately advocates on behalf of youth and families in Louisiana schools, facilities, and communities.  Before joining SPLC, Cheyenne volunteered as an intake assistant with Loyola University’s Workplace Justice Project and worked as a student assistant with the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, where she worked diligently on behalf of indigent clients on civil and criminal issues. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University of New Orleans in Criminal Justice. 

Advocacy Project Summary - Raise awareness about school-based arrests and data accountability.

Rickell Howard | Cincinnati, OH

juvenile-justice-reform_Joshua-BatesRickell Howard is the Ohio Director of Litigation and Policy for the Children’s Law Center. A Cincinnati native, she has dedicated her career to providing legal representation to persons that are underrepresented in the legal system and has built a successful track record ofimpactful federal civil rights litigation, and criminal and juvenile justice policy reform. Rickell received her Juris Doctor from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2006 and her B.B.A. in International Business from Howard University in 2002, where she graduated magnacum laude. Rickell began her legal career at the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, where she represented over 300 low-income clients in lawsuits and administrative hearings. Before joining Children’s Law Center in 2014, she also served as the Director for the Human Rights in Prison Litigation project at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, where she represented state prisoners inOhio’s largest prison healthcare class action suit, Fussell v. Wilkinson. In addition to her professional experience, Rickell has served as a board member of the Central Community Health Board, Lighthouse Community School, and is the founder of Wise Counsel, a faith-based legal ministry, where she provides legal resources to persons who are unable to afford an attorney. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio with her family.

Advocacy Project Summary - Reduce racial disparities in Hamilton County, Ohio’s juvenile justice system.

Esché Jackson | Los Angeles, CA

juvenile-justice-reform_Ebony-HowardJustice-system reform advocate, Esché Jackson, focuses on developing ways to engage directly impacted youth in system reform, policy, and practice. She has unique and profound working knowledge of the juvenile justice system, foster care system, and education system within Los Angeles’ County, having personally experienced each of these systems and engaged in advocacy efforts. She believes in the redemptive qualities of our youth. She has mainlined the justice reform movement as a storytelling sensation, sharing her own redemption narrative, and testifying to the primacy of justice and equality. The challenging inner city upbringing that serves as the backdrop of her greatest hardships also serves as the platform of her success. Today, she is a graduate from the University of Southern California with a BA in English Literature. Esché has seven years of experience at Morris Yorn Law Firm. As the Co-Chair for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s member board, her leadership skills help organize formerly incarcerated individuals in areas such as policy advocacy, community building, peer mentorship and outreach. 

Advocacy Project Summary - Develop a personal-development based curriculum that provides girls who are incarcerated with the tools to assess their life’s experiences, navigate through their struggles and successes and build greater capacity for self-actualization and personal growth.

Erin Keith | Washington, D.C.

youth-justice-reform_Candace-JohnsonErin Keith is the current Juvenile Defense and Policy Fellow in Georgetown’s Juvenile Justice Clinic. She graduated summa cum laude from Howard University in 2013 with her B.A.in Political Science and from Georgetown Law in 2016 with her J.D. While in law school, Keith dedicated herself to her Washington, D.C. community by teaching a human rightscourse at a local public high school and creating a “Know Your Rights” canvassing initiativein her capacity as Attorney General for Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association. She also served as a student attorney in the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic, where she represented accused youth in delinquency and school disciplinary proceedings. In addition to her campus involvement, Keith served as a judicial intern for a juvenile judge in D.C.Superior Court and as a Summer Associate for Miller, Canfield, Paddock, and Stone, P.L.C. She also interned with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the U.S. Department of Justice inthe Public Integrity Section, and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia inthe Juvenile Services Program. In 2016, Erin published two articles: She Could Have Been Me: A Tribute to Renisha McBride, in the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, and Wronged Without Recourse: Examining Shortcomings of Compensation Statutes for Black Exonerees, in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Modern Critical Race Perspectives. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan.

Advocacy Project Summary - Create an initiative that empowers girls of color who have touched the juvenile justice system and to transform the system by advocating against the continued overcriminalization of minority girls.  

Treshika Melvin | Jackson, MS

juvenile-justice-reform_Lee-NaveBorn and raised in Jackson, MS, Treshika Melvin is a graduate of Jim Hill High School, Millsaps College and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She has served as a youth advocate in various capacities since her teenage years, and is committed to creating and encouraging environments and communities where youth of color are supported to thrive. Furthermore, she strives to dismantle systemic barriers to these young people’s success. Treshika currently serves as a Community Advocate at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson, MS.

Advocacy Project Summary - Develop a model, including school district-level policy changes, that establishes a community coalition with the purpose of creating systemic support for youth who have been pushed out of schools.

Nanyamka A. Shakura | Montgomery, AL

juvenile-justice-reform_Joi_OwensNanyamka A. Shukura is a senior community advocate at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Her focus is in education equity and juvenile justice work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline affecting too many children across the state of Alabama. Before joining SPLC in 2010, she 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.

Advocacy Project Summary - Create a youth-led, comprehensive organizing effort in two Alabama school districts.

Valerie Slater | North Chesterfield, VA

Valerie joined Legal Aid’s JustChildren Program in 2016 as a juvenile justice attorney and Coordinator for the RISE for Youth Coalition. RISE for Youth is a non-partisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration in Virginia. Valerie’s work focuses on educating communities and policy makers on the detrimental effects of youth incarceration; advancing efforts to create community based rehabilitative models as alternatives to incarceration; advocating for the rights of incarcerated youth; and closing juvenile prisons. Previously, Valerie worked at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, the Commonwealth’s protection and advocacy agency. While at dLCV, Valerie worked to protect the rights of children with disabilities in the community, in residential facilities and in juvenile justice facilities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Her work focused on issues related to special education, transition, conditions of confinement, and access to services. Valerie earned her Juris Doctor in 2012 from the University of Richmond School of Law, where she was recognized for her commitment to youth advocacy in the clinic programs. Valerie earned her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts with a Social Science Concentration and a Minor in Criminal Justice in 2009 from Colorado State University. Valerie has dedicated her life’s work to advocacy in its many forms to preserve and protect our Commonwealth’s most valuable resource, our youth.

Advocacy Project Summary - Develop the foundation for legislation requiring the Department of Juvenile Justice to build complete, organic community continuums of care across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Mar Velez | Oakland, CA

juvenile-justice-reform_Ricky-WatsonMar Velez is a Chicana feminist activist researcher and professional. She has worked for racial, education, economic and labor justice movement campaigns for over ten years. During her tenure at the University of California, San Diego, Mar led student movement and labor justice campaigns for students and workers that intersected race, gender and class. She established and funded outreach programs for youth in the San Diego community as Co-Coordinator at the Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service. Through her dual Masters Program in Public Health and City Planning at the University of California Berkeley, Mar completed a community based participatory research project using the PhotoVoice method with Oakland youth. The research led to broader movement building strategies for CURYJ and innovative ways to center youth’s voice in policy. Mar connects rights to a healthy city to racial and economic justice for vulnerable populations. Her movement building expertiseand commitment to community based participatory research and policy bring her to Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice as the Organizing and Policy Campaign Manager at CURYJ.

Advocacy Project Summary - Develop a comprehensive long-term policy strategy to close youth prisons, end the treatment of youth as adults and fund community alternatives to incarceration in California.

Terrence Wilson | East Point, GA

juvenile-justice-reform_Tiffany-V-WilliamsTerrence Wilson is currently a staff attorney at the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to joining Georgia Appleseed, Terrence worked in a variety of areas including political campaigning, legislative affairs, local government, and civil rights law and policy. He brings a passion for juvenile justice and a desire to use public policy and legislative advocacy to improve the lives of Georgia’s children. Terrence was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. He graduated with Honors with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Social and Economic Justice. He then attended the University of Georgia where he received his Juris Doctor and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Advocacy Project Summary - Create a school justice protocol and a school justice protocol committee in a jurisdiction with the highest rate of school suspensions and expulsions in Georgia.

Sarah Yousuf | Chicago, IL

juvenile-justice-reform_Tiffany-V-WilliamsSarah is the Policy Associate for United Congress. Prior to working for UCCRO, she worked as the Violence Prevention Coordinator at Enlace Chicago, located in Little Village. As the Violence Prevention Coordinator, Sarah convened the Violence Prevention Collaborative, which consisted of various stakeholders, including representatives from community-based organizations, local churches, the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools. Together, the collaborative addressed issues of gang violence within the community by organizing rallies, hosting community peace circles, and participating in education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the resources available to community residents. Sarah has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the criminal justice system, as she has worked as a public defender for the Office of the Cook County Public Defender. While there, she represented parents whose children were taken away due to allegations of child abuse and neglect. She has also worked at the California Innocence Project, where she investigated claims of innocence submitted by incarcerated individuals within California. Sarah received her J.D. from California Western School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Loyola University Chicago.

Advocacy Project Summary - Create and conduct a public education campaign centered on a new passed law in Chicago that mandates all youth up to the age of 15 must have an attorney present during a custodial interrogation in a homicide or sex offense case.