Home News Center YJLI Fellow Dominique Morgan Seeks Healing for System-Impacted Youth and Families

YJLI Fellow Dominique Morgan Seeks Healing for System-Impacted Youth and Families

October 31, 2019
Courtney M. McSwain

Tell me a little bit about Black and Pink. 

Black and Pink is the largest prison abolitionist organization in the United States serving LGBTQ+ people and people who are living with HIV/AIDS who are currently and formerly incarcerated or system-impacted in general. Black and Pink was founded in 2005 in Boston, Massachusetts, by Reverend Jason Lydon. I was appointed as the National Director in January 2018, when the founder stepped down from his role after 13 years.   

Here in Omaha, Nebraska, we just celebrated the opening of the “Lydon House," the first-ever housing for LGBTQ+ people who were formerly incarcerated. Through this initiative, we're addressing the basic needs of people who are system impacted and also creating a school for LGBTQ+ youth who are system-involved to have a safe space to learn and dig into their greatness.   

What got you into youth justice reform?  

It was my personal experience. I first went into the juvenile system when I was 12 turning 13 years old. I was in group homes, foster care and forced therapy - navigating the system and feeling like I wasn't being seen or didn't have an advocate who was there for me. Later there was about a year gap from 17 to 18 when I was homethen I moved out and got into a very abusive relationship and was incarcerated from the age of 18 to 27.   

When I was able to look back at my lived experience of incarceration, I realized that most of my incarceration happened during my adolescence 

And, before my time here at Black and PinkI was a sexual health educator, and public health was what brought me into activism locally in Nebraska. Coupling my public health background with the realization that I was an adolescent for most of my incarceration, I asked myself, “What am I doing to change the experience for young people who are navigating the system now?"  

In Nebraska, a specific area code often predisposes a young person to system involvement, and I had to ask myself, “Am I wasting the opportunities I’ve had by not really challenging these systems?” All of those things led me to lean into youth justice and to want to address these issues.  

What was the transition like going from public health to youth justice work?   

I quickly realized that as a sexual health educator, I should be working with youth detention centers and at alternative schoolsI had a supervisor who was open to that idea, and I was able to do public health work in the system directly with youthwhile still working for a hospital. Then I started working with Monica Raye Simpson from Sister Song and other folks who were doing reproductive justice, and I had a real epiphany of comprehensive sex education being a tool to dismantle mass incarceration. I found myself in this beautiful space where I was working in public health and sexual health while working with folks who were directly impacted by juvenile justice. I started to unpack how healthy relationshipsbody autonomy and comprehensive sex education can also be tools to prevent young folks from entering the justice system.   

Tell us about your advocacy project.

I started with the foundation of wanting to remove the language of “offenders.” There are people who cause harm, and there are people who experience harm; much of the time, both of those identities live within the same individual. So, my project entails working with youth who have been system impacted, looking at their journey to healing and looking at their navigation through justice systems. I’m also working with parents and families through healing circles and through doing assessments of supports and needs. I’m taking those conversations and developing curriculum and training for system-facing individuals.   

I’ve spent the last six months working with youth, and I started a parent cohort in September. I’ve now begun the process of training system-facing folks, including youth on probation in Douglas County, and I will start working with youth in detention centers in February. The hope is to bring families and youth together around their journey and also inspire them around activism by supporting and amplifying their voice to challenge what youth justice looks like in Douglas County.   

What happens in the healing circles?   

We are bringing folks together based on a common element – sometimegender, sexual orientation, or their stories may carry similar themes. We listen and validate that their lived experience is true and real. We then challenge them to think about what their journey to healing looks like. We emphasize that there’s no finish line to healing; this is life-long work. We get them to think about how they are re-establishing relationships as parent and child or re-establishing relationships as community members. Ultimately, we hear their stories, pull out common themes and support them to build a journey of healing as individuals and family units.  

What motivates you?  

I’m often in rooms where I’m the only person with the identities that I carry. I have a responsibility to make sure I’m creating space for people who look like me or share my identities 

I met with the Director of Corrections in Nebraska. Before he got his promotion, he was one of the people who wrote the paperwork to put me in solitary confinement when I was 22 years old. I was walking in that room for myself, but also community that is expecting me to make things happen. Because they stand behind me and support me – that pushes me forward.   

Also, both of my parents have passed away, and one of the things that motivates me is letting parents know that they have not failed their children. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, no matter what white supremacist systems try to tell us. I want parents to know they are doing their bestand by doing my best, I am affirming that my parents did their best  

What is your dream youth justice vision?   

My dream youth justice vision lives in a space where youth hold power around what liberation looklike for them, and we as adults are just supporting that.  

More specifically, I envision black children understanding that they are incredible - that they have purpose, are resilient and powerfuland that they are at the front of this movement  

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