Youth Voices on Justice Reform: National Contest Opens

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Young people are all too often left out of discussions about policing practices, the law and the relationship between their communities and law enforcement.

What if we started listening to them?

With the help of Strategies for Youth, a nonprofit that advocates for better police-youth relations, we are organizing a nationwide competition that offers young people an opportunity to express their views on the relationship between policing and democracy in a unique and creative way.

logoThis year’s prompt is “What is the role of policing in fostering democracy by the people, for the people”?

The contest is hosted by You(th) Matter, a youth-led advisory board created in collaboration with Strategies for Youth last year, that aims to elevate youth voices and equip young people with the tools to promote reforms in policing practices and policies.

We believe this is an important opportunity to bring the voices of young people into the national discussion about policing.  It’s a discussion that is long-overdue.

Some police departments have youth advisory boards, but they are few and far between.

Despite their lack of involvement, young people clearly need to be involved in conversations about policing. A Gallup poll from 2020 found that among all major age groups in the United States, younger Americans are significantly more likely to believe that “major” or “minor” changes need to be made to policing in the United States.

Another Vox study found that younger people are less likely to trust the police then Americans aged 45-plus. By dint of attending school, many young people will interact with law enforcement on a daily basis.

The percentage of schools with school resource officers has dramatically risen in the past 50 years—from 1 percent of all schools nationwide in 1975, to over 66 percent of middle schools and 72 percent of high schools in 2018.

Youth represent a crucial part of the conversation about policing, and one that cannot be ignored.  By inviting young people to communicate about their direct experiences with law enforcement, Youth Voices hopes to shed light on some of the less documented and well-known issues youth may face.

Laura Jenny

Our personal stories have led us to this point in the journey.

Laura Jenny is a recent graduate of Harvard University, where she received a degree in Integrative biology and Global Health and Health Policy. Past roles include being a Case Manager for Y2Y, a youth homeless shelter, and Co-Director of the Eleganza Community Service Board.

She also has conducted research in the Naomi Pierce Lab investigating plant diseases, insects and their microbiomes to combat crop failure, economic devastation, and food shortage; and in the Stephen Tsang Lab, which conducts research in gene therapy to help maintain and restore vision for patients with inherited retinal dystrophies. She is from Leominster, MA

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Isaac Annan

Isaac Annan is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amhers, where he completed a degree in Biology. He is also a patient care technician at Emerson Hospital and a medic in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. He is from Leominster, MA.

Hannah Sussman is originally from Boston, MA and graduated from George Washington University in 2020 with a double major in Political Science and Peace Studies. She has previously worked with human rights and juvenile justice issues, and currently serves as a Program Associate with Strategies for Youth.

Growing up in working class cities in Massachusetts, we noticed that issues which pose significant challenges to youth and their families often go unnoticed or unaddressed. Strains on the education system, a failing mental health system, and a struggling welfare system contribute to so many of these challenges while deeply impacting young people.

The pandemic has made these worse. And it brought on a slew of new challenges.

The pandemic, combined with the tragic killings of many Black Americans at the hands of police in both 2020 and the years before COVID-19 even existed, has reshaped the kinds of trauma faced by youth in this country—and in particular youth of color.

In these changing times, it is imperative that youth perspectives are highlighted.

The national Youth Voices contest will accept submissions in one of three categories: writing, artwork, and video. Prizewinners will be announced second week of February.

We encourage applicants to answer the prompt with creativity and in any medium they wish.

Youth Voices will award three contestants in each of these categories, with a total of nine prizes. The contest is now open to youth aged 14 to 18, with all submissions due by Jan. 4. Each contestant may only submit one entry.

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Hannah Sussman

The winner in each category receive $1,000. The first runner up will receive $500, and the second runner up will receive $250.

The winning entries will be compiled and published by You(th) Matter on its website, and, separately by Strategies for Youth, which will publish the winning writing entries in a special newsletter.

The Crime Report will also post winning entries.

We believe this contest can be an exciting way to celebrate youth perspectives and creativity while offering a serious opportunity to understand the challenges faced by many young people in this county.

Please spread the news!

For more details and the entry form, pls click here

Laura A. Jenny, Isaac Annan, and Hannah Sussman are members of You(th) Matter. The Crime Report will be pleased to publish the work of the prizewinners.

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