Home Our Work Youth Justice Leadership Institute: Building a Movement 2020-2021 Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellows

2020-2021 Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellows

The Youth Justice Leadership Institute is now in its 10th 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 youth justice reform.

Bios and Advocacy Projects

Dominque Jones-Johnson | New Orleans, LA

As an adult child with an incarcerated parent, Dominque advocates for children with incarcerated parents while working to enhance the bond between the incarcerated parent and the child. In May of 2018, Dominque and her incarcerated father founded Daughters Beyond Incarceration (DBI) to help serve girls growing up fatherless. In September of 2019, DBI was featured on dateline NBC in an article titled: The Definition of Resilience.  Her youth development plan works to prepare children to speak on panels as expert advocates in the field of trauma due to parental incarceration. 

In December of 2017, Dominque became a published author with her article in Loyola’s Law Review, titled: “When are you coming home: An Exploratory Essay Confronting The Issues Involving Children  With Incarcerated Parents And How To Break The Cycle”. On June 11, 2020, Dominque effectively wrote and passed Louisiana Act 284 which creates The Louisiana Council for Children of Incarcerated Parents, housed within the Office of the Governor, to investigate, analyze, and propose comprehensive reforms for children of incarcerated parents.

Dominque has an undying need to support all children with an incarcerated parent. She helped create a photo exhibition titled, "Defining Resilience" that displays the resilience of children with incarcerated parents that is displayed at NORD recreation centers.

Dominque received her undergraduate degree from Alabama State University on a full track and field scholarship and her master’s in human resource education with a specialization in organizational leadership from LSU. 

Advocacy Project Summary: Daughters Beyond Incarceration (DBI). DBI works to create social change for all children impacted by parental incarceration by implementing policies that assist with overcoming adverse childhood experiences.  DBI has an undying need to support all children with an incarcerated parent by instilling them with self-love and self-empowerment. This project will work to enhance families impacted by incarceration through an each-one-teach-one method that has a holistic lens to transform the entire family.

Darius Swift | Hampton, VA

For several years Darius R. Swift has been devoted to providing youth, community members, and family members with opportunities for growth, glimpses of hope, and continuous positive energy. Driven by his past experiences, Swift takes pride in maintaining a servant’s mentality in both professional and personal settings. After earning his advance high school diploma, Swift then attended Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, where he majored in business administration and minored in accounting. At Shaw University, Swift became very active in social and academic clubs, which introduced him to volunteerism and community organizing. After graduating he then traveled south, pursuing a childhood dream of a career in human resources. In addition to his primary job, Swift volunteered in area community centers and schools providing a voice of encouragement and consistent positive energy to the youth in formal group settings. Due to an untimely personal loss he decided to return to his hometown where he is determined to serve not only the youth but the community at large.  
Advocacy Project Summary: This advocacy project will intentionally bring focus to underrepresented skill trades and expose them to youth inside juvenile detention centers. The project will work to restructure policy and funding in education to offer STEM related courses and skill trade training to youth involved with the youth justice system.  This project challenges curriculum makers to take an assertive effort in providing more STEM education to their curriculums. By introducing the vast career opportunities in STEM this could spark motivation for change to youth inside of juvenile detention facilities.

Jasmine Jackson | Upper Marlboro, MD

Jasmine Jackson has worked as a youth justice practitioner for 10 years, currently serving as a Senior Policy Specialist at the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI). Jasmine leads efforts for states implementing system-wide youth justice improvement through enacted legislation or strategic planning. Her CJI implementation work is part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Juvenile Justice System Improvement initiative. 
Prior to joining CJI, she worked for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services in the areas of court investigation, probation, and reentry. Jasmine is very passionate about improving outcomes for youth involved in the youth justice system, especially youth of color, and her career focuses on finding effective ways of doing what is best for youth. 
Jasmine is especially dedicated to improving the lives of young people through direct care, system reform, and community impact. Jasmine holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Benedict College and a Master of Science degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. 
Advocacy Project Summary: The goal of this project is to promote an initiative to transform the youth justice system by recognizing and addressing the diverse needs of girls. This initiative will cultivate a resource guide to help youth justice stakeholders recognize and advocate against the disparate and bias treatment of justice-involved girls; particularly girls of color in order to promote positive and sustainable outcomes.

Jeffery Wallace | Moline, Iowa

Jeff has spent a large part of his life studying the effects of the criminal justice system policies and procedures on at-risk youth – first, as one of them and then, through his undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice, and through his current pursuit of a PhD in criminal justice administration. 

He has worked in non-profit organizations, juvenile detention centers, and as a social worker for the Department of Human Services. He had previously been a Crisis Interventionist in conjunction with the Davenport Police Department and local hospitals for over eight years. 

Jeff is driven to change the way justice-involved youth are sentenced, so more youngsters can find their true path. He draws on his own experience in working toward policies and procedures to achieve these goals, as he outlined in his 2015 TEDx Naperville Talk. Jeff also presented at TEDx Davenport in 2019 where he outlined the effects trauma and how understanding trauma can considerably change the trajectory of a youth’s life. 

Recently, Jeff worked as a Program Manager for Safer Foundation (Illinois/Iowa-based) providing alternatives to detention for youth. He has been appointed to a 2-year term on the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council (JJAC). 

Jeff is the founder and CEO of Vision Leadership and Productions and is the CEO for the Iowa-based non-profit, S.T.E.P. of the Quad Cities. In addition, he is a consultant facilitating discussions and delivering learning exchanges on an array of subjects. 

Currently Jeff works with the State of Iowa as a Health Facility Surveyor. 
Advocacy Project Summary: This project will create local accountability committees made up of stakeholders with the local youth justice system. The stakeholders should be former system involved youth, youth court officers, parents, concerned citizens, law enforcement, detention staff and judges. The committee would trace how monies are spent on local preventive programs, track trends related to youth justice arrests, adjudication and adult waiver stats, and discuss youth justice trends and best practices to impact change. 

Korynna Lopez | Berwyn, IL

Korynna Lopez is the Project Assistant at Illinois Justice Project (ILJP), which advances policies and practices that reduce violence, decrease prison recidivism and make the justice system more equitable. She works on a variety of youth and criminal justice projects and events with an additional focus on engaging youth in ILJP’s work. After interning with the ILJP as a college student, Lopez joined the staff full-time in October 2016 after receiving her bachelor’s degree with a double major in communications and media as well as sociology from DePaul University.
From 2016-2017, she served as President of the Youth Advisory Board to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, which is the federally mandated State Advisory Group to the Governor, the General Assembly and the Illinois Department of Human Services. Lopez and other advisory board members provided a youth perspective and voice to the Commission’s effort to improve youth justice.
From 2013 to 2015, Lopez was a member of the Mikva Challenge Cook County Juvenile Justice Council. She contributed to reports recommending ways to help youth transition successfully from the juvenile justice system and assisted in the creation of a web-app to help people expunge their records.
Advocacy Project Summary: This project will create a social justice change agent curriculum guide for justice involved youth. Through the development and implementation of a curriculum tailored for youth who are incarcerated and delivery in a carceral setting, youth will gain the understanding and tools to become change agents for transforming the systems around them. With the learned self-advocacy skills, youth will be able to promote policies and practices that are equitable and just.

Melissa Centeno | Brooklyn, NY

Melissa Centeno is a youth worker, circle keeper, and transformative justice practitioner. She currently serves as the Brooklyn-based Restorative Justice Coordinator for S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective, where she leads the Circles Not Cells restorative intervention program. 
Melissa graduated from Dartmouth College with a B.A. in psychology modified with African and African American studies, and has organized with the NYC Chapter of Black Youth Project 100. When not holding space with and for Black girls, Melissa spends her time reading, volunteering for Crisis Text Line, and looking for her next mango. 
Advocacy Project Summary: This project will focus on the development of the Circles Not Cells Facility Engagement Manual, which can be shared with other restorative justice practitioners working in partnership with facilities to transform the youth legal system. Circles Not Cells (CNC) offers restorative justice practices as a service to non-profits and government agencies service justice-involved girls and nonbinary youth with the goal of preventing recidivism, training staff and youth in alternative approaches to addressing conflict, and transforming organizational and agency culture. Utilizing a combination of community building circles, staff support and training, and rapid response conflict intervention, CNC aims to shift the overall culture of facilities to one that is supportive, youth centered, advocacy and strengths-based, trauma-informed, and gender responsive.

Racquel Henderson | Omaha, NE

Racquel Henderson has spent over nine years in serving her community by providing second chances in re-entry programs and uplifting youth in higher education opportunities. Racquel currently serves as a College Success Navigator at Metropolitan Community College, where she works with a scholarship program that focuses on the retention of first-generation and underrepresented students. Racquel also serves as the Employment & Education Coordinator for Black and Pink—the nation's largest prison abolitionist organization. 
Racquel is a 2018 Young Professional of the Year Urban League of Nebraska Award Recipient, 2017 Young Black and Influential Award recipient, a 2018 MORE Women Award Recipient, and Founder of #TheBeProject—a movement based on bringing awareness to various jobs and resources to community members. 
Racquel serves as a Mentor for Sacred Heart School where she works to improve academic achievement, self-esteem, social competence, and avoidance of problem/high-risk behavior by providing a relationship with youth. She was inducted into Women’s Fund Circles 9, where she looks forward to growing personally and professionally while assisting in improving the lives of women and girls in the community. Racquel is a keynote speaker and works to empower, influence, and inspire individuals by meeting them where they are, and helping them reach their max potential.  Racquel believes that with the right resources, opportunities, and support, change is inevitable.
Racquel earned a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she studied criminal justice and psychology and was inducted into the National Honors Society of Criminal Justice in 2014. 

Advocacy Project Summary: This  project is a healing, research, and system change project that works to center the lived experience and voice of youth and families that have been impacted by the youth justice system through a research design process and research use strategies. I work to gather the voices of youth and families to assist with making sense of their own experiences with the system.

Rebecca Burney | Silver Spring, MD

Rebecca Burney is an attorney and the Youth Advocacy Coordinator at Rights4Girls, where she focuses on the intersection of female sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and youth justice system involvement in Washington, DC. In this role, she leads local policy initiatives, community organizing efforts, and Rights4Girls’ youth advocacy workshops where she engages and empowers young people in the District to become powerful agents for change. Rebecca has extensive experience working with survivors of violence and trauma and serves as faculty for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ (NCJFCJ) judicial institute, where she helps train judges on domestic child sex trafficking. 
Prior to her work at Rights4Girls, Rebecca served as a sexual assault counselor and first responder for the Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center in Lansing, Michigan where she worked with nurses, prosecutors, and police officers to coordinate care and advocacy for sexual abuse survivors. She has also worked directly with youth involved in the DC foster care system as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and has mentored incarcerated youth in local detention facilities.
Rebecca holds a B.A. in political science and ethnic studies from Brown University, and a J.D. from Georgetown Law where she was a Public Interest Fellow.
Advocacy Project Summary: The goal of this project is to provide trafficking survivors who have touched the youth justice system with the tools necessary to become their own powerful advocates for systems change and ensure that their needs and opinions are fully contemplated in policy decisions and reform efforts.

Tierra T. Ellis | Los Angeles, CA

Tierra T. Ellis Ph.D., NCSP proudly considers herself a servant leader. Dr. Ellis earned her doctoral degree in school psychology at Howard University and identifies as a school and clinical psychologist by training and experience. Dr. Ellis graduated from Arizona State University in 2012 with two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and African and African American Studies and a minor in dance. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Psyches of Color, Inc., a nonprofit centered on providing mental health support, family support, and mentoring to decrease the stigma of mental health and promote radical healing to Black and Latinx adolescents and young adults at-risk of the school-to-prison pipeline. Dr. Ellis is also a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), an independent non-profit organization, where she actively participates in the Abolition Group. The Abolition Group is centered on decoupling law enforcement and mental health and its aims are to transform a society that does not include incarceration.  
Dr. Ellis’ scholarship includes dismantling the school to prison pipeline, destigmatizing mental health in Black and Latinx communities, culturally relevant interventions for minority youth and adults, and the representation of Black students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Dr. Ellis loves creating interventions that emphasize the importance of giving Black and Latinx youth a voice. Her goal is to dismantle the school to prison pipeline by assisting Black and Latinx youth who are at-risk of the school to prison pipeline with their journey of radical healing, which is a strengths-based approach to building the capacity of how people respond to their environment that results in overall well-being of the individual.
Dr. Ellis is the creator of the Black Minds M.A.T.T.E.R intervention, a trauma-informed positive youth development group, centered on decreasing the stigma of mental health in Black and Latinx communities. She piloted her Black Minds M.A.T.T.E.R intervention in the spring/summer of 2019 at the Youth Justice Coalition's Free LA High School in Los Angeles, CA with Black adolescents and young adults who are at-risk of the school to prison pipeline. Dr. Ellis is an advocate of all things mental health! WE all need therapists! She enjoys the beach, traveling, reading, and playing her guitar. She is a plant-based foodie and enjoys experimenting with new raw vegan and alkaline dishes! Dr. Ellis also loves all things music, dance, and fitness. 
Advocacy Project Summary: Dr. Ellis will be implementing and conducting a program through her nonprofit, Psyches of Color, for a program called Exert Your Voice. Through Exert Your Voice she will provide a space for Black and Latinx youth to express themselves through journaling, music creation (e.g., hip-hop, rapping), storytelling, poetry, or any other way that best helps release those intense emotions. Dr. Ellis also conducts hip-hop therapy and other culturally relevant approaches in the group. Dr. Ellis hopes to decrease mental health symptoms, increase motivation to approach goal-oriented outcomes, and reverse internalized beliefs and attitudes regarding the stigma of mental health.

Victor Cabral | Reading, PA

Victor Cabral is a licensed social worker and a fellow with the Pennsylvania Governor's Office of Advocacy and Reform. The goal of the fellowship is to provide young and talented professionals with a commitment to public service the opportunity to improve the overall effectiveness of state government by serving as a critical member of an agency policy office. In addition to his work with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Victor works part-time as a psychotherapist in a private practice focused on providing mental health services to people of color. 
Previously, Victor has worked in education, mental health services, child welfare services, and youth justice services. Throughout his professional career, Victor's focus has been to serve vulnerable youth and their families. His commitment to vulnerable youth led him from providing direct support to youth in his community to the state's capital, intending to impact policies that address trauma and adverse childhood experiences. 
Victor received his Master of Social Work from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He is also a graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in speech communication. 
Advocacy Project Summary: The goal of the 'Healing Centered PA' project is to apply the youth justice knowledge obtained throughout the fellowship to help advance Pennsylvania's Trauma-Informed PA Initiative and support the implementation of the recommendations made jointly by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Crime and Justice Institute. The project's desired outcome is to contribute to the development of policies, standards, criteria, and/or requirements that address racial trauma and racial disparities within the youth justice system in Pennsylvania.

William Bentley | Philadelphia, PA 

William is currently a youth organizer with The Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project (YASP).  At the age of 14, William was sent to P.I.C.C. (an adult jail).  William met Sarah at YASP through his friend, Terrance “TA” Williams. After meeting Sarah, William’s life drastically changed. He realized he had to change his lifestyle and made up his mind to become a public speaker to teach youth not to fall into the same footsteps he once had. 
William was born in North Philadelphia and is an underground North Philadelphia music artist.  He’s using his music to educate others about the impact of youth incarceration. William also works with several coalitions in the Philadelphia area to push progressive criminal justice reform. 

Advocacy Project Summary: The Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project (YASP) is building a youth-led movement to end the practice of  trying and incarcerating young people as adults.  Young people who have been through the adult court system are at the forefront of YASP, leading the movement to keep young people out of adult prisons and to create new possibilities for youth around the city. This project will focus on developing statewide action to repeal Act 33, which is a law that allows youth to be tried as adults and held in adult facilities in Pennsylvania.