Home News Center Kaaleah Jones Fights for Kids to Be Kids

Kaaleah Jones Fights for Kids to Be Kids

April 29, 2021
Anna November

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Kaaleah Jones is the Vice President of Abu Unity Foundation and a dedicated community advocate addressing public safety, economic opportunity, and ending the school to prison pipeline. Kaaleah was nominated for our Young Leader Profile Darius Swift, 2020 NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellow.  

How did you get involved with youth justice advocacy work?

My pathway to youth justice advocacy work was unconventional. My father was murdered when I was one. We lost him to gun violence in 2003, and that left my mom really mad and alone. In 2006, she started a festival in my father's honor, and that's what introduced me to youth advocacy work. At that time, I was really, really young. The festival became an annual thing commemorating my father's legacy while also allowing me to remember my father in a more positive light and promote Stop The Violence. Through [the festival], I got more roles as I got older. Getting introduced into the advocacy world was kind of by accident because tragedy struck, but I've been in it ever since the age of four. 

Why is it important for you to advocate for youth justice transformation?

I have a younger sibling and I also have a lot of younger cousins, and I know that people say that the youth are the future. We're the ones who will be in charge of the society once everybody else passes on, so we need people who are equipped to be in charge. We need people who are equipped to be more than just the status quo— we need good politicians, we need great doctors, we need great surgeons. We need people in all of these spaces, and juveniles can't do that if they spend most of their life incarcerated or if they're passing away at alarming rates. We need to make sure that we're advocating for equitable opportunities and for people to be in spaces where they can learn more, do more and be more than what stereotypes or prejudices deem them to be. It's imperative to me because it's imperative to our future. I don't want my little sister having to continue this fight. I don't want her to have to fight as hard as my mom and I am. I just want her to be able to be a kid and be whatever she wants to be.

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on in your youth justice work?

My father was an independent rap artist. His name was Abu. The Abu Unity Festival is a community event where we gather at a local park. We had music, and it was a huge cookout where we all came together to enjoy each other's company and have speakers talk about Stop The Violence. Another project is Youth Entrepreneur Startup, the YES Program, which helps students get an introduction to entrepreneurship basics and key terms that will help them think on an entrepreneurship level. Be Boys and Be Girls is a mentorship program that teaches youth how to be leaders and embrace who they are. I've done a lot of projects and panels with different organizations talking about youth being impacted by daily gun violence, how [gun violence] is seen in the media and how to work to resolve it. Over the summer, I was a part of the VA Coalition for Transforming Policing to rethink and reimagine policing at the state and national levels in light of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbury. I was the violence prevention chair for the Newport News Mayor's Youth Commission, and then I worked with the city of Hampton on countless projects such as Cities United, Urgency of Now, and a whole host of different things. 

Is there someone you look up to as a role model/motivator? If so who, and why?

You can learn something from everybody, but I feel like the people I look up to the most are my mother and Fred Hampton. I look up to my mother, of course, because she's the one that started me in this work. She's always been so courageous, so fearless and so unapologetic about everything she says and does. When she goes into a room, she never asks for justice, she demands it. She commands a room, and she doesn't accept anything less than what she came to the table for. That's something that I would like to embody as I go forward in this work.

Fred Hampton was so young and so prolific at a young age, and I want to be like that.  He wasn't as polished as some other people were - he wasn't as uniform - but he was able to speak to so many different groups and bring them all together with one message and one central voice. I feel that that was more powerful than anything else, so that is something I also want to embody.

How do you care for yourself when things get difficult in your work?

Self-care has always been so hard because the work is so personal and it impacts us every day. It's hard to separate yourself from the work when you're always confronted with it. The main thing I do is continue to remind myself that I'm still a kid. I'm a freshman in college— I'm only 18. I have to remind myself to do kid things— you don't have to be an advocate all the time. Do the things you used to do when you were little, like drawing, singing and just being goofy. I'm lucky in that I have a lot of time in this world and in this work.

Do you have any tips for young people looking to get involved in youth justice work?

My biggest tip would be to go for it. I know a lot of people are hesitant because they feel like they don't have the words or they don't know if what they say will be received. It's really not about that. A lot of people feel like they're going to say the wrong thing, but it's your experiences, your truth, and no one can take that away from you. Nobody can tell you that what you experienced is wrong; if there’s something you want to fight for, the words will just come to you. It's just about getting started, finding an organization, and letting your voice be heard in those spaces. You will always learn from other people and grow, but it's all about taking that first step in getting started. Fight for whatever you feel like you want to fight for. 

What is your vision for youth justice?

I think of youth justice work as a big fire that is always burning and festering. We're coming to that point where it's going to reach its peak, and so my vision for youth justice work is for that peak to be a catalyst for a shift to youth restoration. I want people to get involved, and I want people to continue to fight, but as we're fighting, just know that we're fighting to come to a resolution. We don't want to be fighting forever. I want youth justice work to be something that's impactful every time we enter a room as young people. I want us to leave with what we came there for, and I want us to continue to grow and reimagine what it's like to advocate for whatever problem we come across as young people.

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