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Young Leader Profile: Nia Richardson Fights to Center Youth Voices

February 22, 2021
Anna November

Image of Nia Richardson and Quote

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

Youth are told that their voices don't matter—they're too young to have an opinion, just shut up and listen and let the old people handle it. I've heard that so many times, especially when it comes to political issues. Youth are the people who should be asked for their opinion because we are the future of the world. We have the most innovative ideas and freshest ideas. They should listen to us instead of us listening to them. I had to have somebody tell me that my voice has power and how to use it to make change happen. Somebody had to tell me, so I want to be that person to tell other people. 

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on with Juvenile Justice Coalition?
One of the first projects I worked on was developing a youth group called Voices of the Unheard. I helped create Ohio House Bill 410, which is a bill to stop the criminalization of truancy. I helped develop the Counselors Not Cuffs campaign to redistribute funds from school resource officers at schools and put it into after-school programs and resources within the school. I’ve spoken on different panels about community advocacy as a youth activist—I've actually done panels at my old high school. One of my mentors reached out to me and said I’d be a good fit for this role because I tell good stories. I feel like people engage more with stories, rather than just listening to the facts. I grew up being a storyteller, so when I start telling a story about something, people listen. 

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

The people I look up to the most are MarShawn McCarrel and Amber Evans. MarShawn was the one who first told me about the school-to-prison pipeline. I knew I was mad, but I didn't know how to do anything about it. He showed me I could do something, and he put me in front of the camera so people could listen to me speak. That was the first time I had ever experienced something like that. Amber Evans is the one who took the torch when MarShawn passed away. She was the one who helped us develop Voices of the Unheard. She was another person who told me my voice matters and that people need to hear what I have to say. Throughout all the fear and doubts when things didn't work out, they were always there to remind us to keep fighting, to tell more youth, and to get people to listen. 

What is your vision for youth justice? 

Youth voices are more valuable than people believe them to be. There needs to be youth at the table making the decisions. A lot of time, youth are not spoken for, only the older generation is. We should be the ones to help shape how this world is. I think a perfect world is one in which there is total collaboration and everybody's opinion is respected, no matter how young or old you are. There have been way too many times when I was told “you're young, what are you saying? Why is it important?” It’s important because I said so and because I want it to be.

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