FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2016
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Key Public Strategies
FOUR TENNESSEANS WIN NATIONAL RECOGNITION
FOR THEIR WORK ON BEHALF OF YOUTH IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW
Honored as Youth Justice Reform Leaders
(Washington, DC) Four Tennesseans – including State Representative Raumesh Akbari -- are being recognized as leaders in youth justice reform by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), based in Washington, DC. The leadership awards were created by NJJN to honor advocates working at the state level who have championed the cause of youth justice reform. These individuals have shown themselves to be true friends of and advocates for youth in trouble with the law, and the awards recognize their commitment to creating a smaller, fairer, and more equitable juvenile justice system.
“We wanted to honor these leaders because they understand that Tennessee’s youth justice system is like a maze, with too many entrances and lots of dead ends,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs the National Juvenile Justice Network. “They’ve each done crucial work to redesign the maze with fewer entrances and clearer pathways out, so that our justice system makes sense and kids can be rehabilitated and contribute to their communities.”
Meet the four recipients:
- State Representative Raumesh Akbari, will receive NJJN’s “Reformer Award” for spearheading bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that will benefit all of Tennessee’s citizens. “We nominated Representative Akbari because of her courageous and compassionate work on both sides of the aisle. She has helped create sensible and sustainable justice policies for all Tennesseans,” said Josh Spickler, Executive Director of Just City, a Memphis justice reform organization which nominated her for the honor. “During her short time in the General Assembly, Representative Akbari has distinguished herself by working with a variety of community partners, fellow legislators, and the Governor’s office to keep our communities safe and support better outcomes for youth and their families.”
- Mahal Burr and Evan John Ross Morrison, co-workers at BRIDGES, have been selected as recipients of NJJN’s “Advocate Award”. Through a program at Bridges known as Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change, they have created a leadership program for youth in lockup which is aimed at preventing other youth from becoming incarcerated and tackling youth violence in Memphis. “Ms. Burr and Mr. Morrison asked a simple question: ‘Who understands the problems these youth face better than the young people themselves?’” said Spickler. “The result is a powerful program that can transform the lives of children who find themselves in trouble with the law – and our justice system.”
- Lauren Wilson Young, of the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation, will receive NJJN’s “Servant Award” to recognize the multiple ways she has worked to make her community safer by helping youth in trouble with the law. She serves as chair of the board for Juvenile Intervention and Faith-Based Follow-up (JIFF) Program, a program focused on helping youth break the cycle of crime and offering them hope for a productive future. She and her husband also created Sweet LaLa’s Bakery to employ graduates of the JIFF program and other at-risk youth. “Lauren has long known that changing outcomes for young people who are in contact with the justice system will depend wholly on the opportunities, support, and truly rehabilitative programming they receive during and immediately after incarceration,” said Spickler. “Her personal leadership in finding these kinds of solutions for Memphis children and their families is an inspiration to our entire community.”
The awards will be given July 26, 2016, at an annual gathering of youth justice advocates from across the country. This year, the conference is hosted in Memphis, TN by NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute.
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The National Juvenile Justice Network is composed of coalitions, organizations and alumni of the Youth Justice Leadership Institute across 43 states and the District of Columbia, all of whom advocate for a fairer justice system for children and teens.
>>Download the press release (PDF)
More About Representative Akbari
State Representative Raumesh Akbari’s interest in politics and community activism led to her winning a special election for House District 91 following the death of Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry in 2013. Since that time she has been an effective and vocal member of the House Criminal Justice Committee and Subcommittee, and the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee. Her law background has been instrumental in both formulating and implementing policy. She is a graduate of Washington University, and the St. Louis University School of Law.
Representative Akbari has also taken a leadership role in several legislative organizations. She is currently vice-chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators; Co-Chair of the Children, Youth and Families Committee of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators; a state director within Women in Government; and national corresponding secretary of N.O.B.E.L., the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women. Her honors include being selected as a 2015 Henry Toll Fellow, sponsored by the Council of State Governments; as a 2015 Early Learning Fellow, sponsored by the National Council of State Legislatures; and as a participant in the 2015 Emerging Leaders Program, sponsored by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. Her legislative efforts have also led Governing Magazine to select her to be in the second class of its Governing Institute, a program for outstanding appointed or elected women officials.
In her hometown of Memphis, Representative Akbari has spearheaded a city-wide effort to clean up neglected and abandoned cemeteries in Memphis and Shelby County; she has held workshops for felons who seek employment and restoration of voting rights; and, with her family’s business, she has conducted a “giving back” effort involving other local businesses and community outreach programs to raise funds for youth ministries in churches within her district.
On a personal level, Representative Akbari is a member of New Hope Baptist Church in Memphis. She and her family own and operate the World Trichology Institute and the Lisa Akbari Hair Care Products line. Theirs is a mission of public service, devoted to the needs of the people of their community, of Memphis and Shelby County, and of the entire State of Tennessee.
More About Mahal Burr & Evan Morrison
Mahal Burr first became involved in the justice system as the Alternatives to Violence Project program director at Carleton College. Following college, Mahal returned to her hometown, Memphis, where she worked at a community organizer around education reform and then a teacher at Freedom Preparatory Academy. Next, she became the Community Action Coordinator at BRIDGES, a non-profit aimed at youth-led social change. Coordinating a group of thirty youth organizers, Mahal again got involved in work around the justice system. Over the past year and a half, Mahal has been working to pilot Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change, a youth leadership program within the jails aimed at changing our justice system and helping prevent other youth from incarceration. Mahal believes that without the insights of those who know the problem the best, we are blind. “Listen to these young men,” Mahal says, “if you want to know what needs to be done to strengthen our schools, communities and jails.”
Evan John Ross Morrison was born in Rockford, IL, and lived in Memphis since 1995. He graduated from Bartlett High School in 2008, and continued on with college at The University of Memphis where he obtained a Bachelor's in Political Science, International Studies, Mathematics, and Economics, and a Master's in City & Regional Planning. It was while he was pursuing his graduate degree that he became a Housing and Community Development (HCD) Fellow at BRIDGES. There, his job was to assist Bridge Builders CHANGE -- a group of dedicated young people seeking to make lasting social change across Memphis. The year Morrison became a fellow, they chose to address the school-to-prison pipeline. As a result, Morrison began using his skills as a facilitator to start working with youth who were in the detention center in Memphis, and later on, with youth who were incarcerated. Along with his coworker (and co-awardee) Mahal Burr, Morrison developed workshops to identify and showcase the amazing leadership potential these youth held. After doing these workshops, it became very clear to Morrison that these young people are insightful, powerful, intelligent, and creative, with the potential to lead their communities against violence. So, with the philosophy of, "Who knows the problem better than those who experienced it?" Morrison and Burr began, and continue, to assist and promote the youth who are best equipped to tackle youth violence in Memphis.
More About Lauren Wilson Young
Lauren Wilson Young was born in Memphis, TN and attended Vanderbilt University, where she earned B.S. degrees in Early Childhood Education and English and M.Ed. In Special Education. Lauren married her high school sweetheart Tommy Young and together they have three children Stuart (13), Wilson (9) and Parker (4). For 12 years Lauren has served as the executive director for her family’s foundation, the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation. She also serves as Board Chair of the Juvenile Intervention and Faith-Based Follow-up (JIFF) Program, and as Chair of the Memphis Grantmakers Forum. She also serves on the boards of Baptist Memorial Healthcare Foundation and Hope Christian Community Foundation. As a result of her board work at JIFF, Lauren and her husband created a family company with a social mission, Sweet LaLa’s Bakery, which employs at risk youth and graduates of the JIFF program, who bake her unique line of cookie creations.
About the Award
The Award for Leadership in Juvenile Justice Reform is presented jointly by NJJN and one of our member organizations to honor advocates who have championed the cause of youth justice reform in their state. These advocates have shown themselves to be true friends to and advocates for youth in trouble with the law, and the award recognizes their commitment to creating a fairer, more equitable juvenile justice system.
Past Award Winners
Learn more here.