“For These Are All Our Children…”
The stakes are high for committed youth working to make the seemingly simple transition to their home communities. In a climate where economic resources are scarce, racial anxieties are high, and the will to overcome these and other challenges is wavering, our children, particularly children of color, find themselves caught between the desire to achieve endless possibilities and the stark realities that diminish these possibilities for this particular group of bright minds.
Created in November 2009, the mission of Building Bonds, Breaking B.A.R.S. (Barriers Against Reaching Success) is to provide the committed youth population with the resources to overcome many of the racial, structural and systematic barriers they’ll face upon release. The founders, Javonie H., Samuel P., Bo N., and myself see the value that these kids have and the assets they can become to society.
In order to achieve this mission, building bonds becomes an essential part of this work. Though I have not made personal contact with the criminal justice system, I understand that my personal successes is due in large part to the folks along the way that decided to invest their time and resources in me. This is true for many of us. Making this notion a part of our service, we believe that taking the time to learn the personal stories of our students and build relationships with them that transcend present circumstances is imperative. We focus on who they are as individuals, how their experiences can be used as assets in our program, and what they’re long term goals are in life so that we may tailor the sessions to meet their individual and collective needs. Through these bonds and the knowledge we share in the safe spaces we create and occupy, the students become equipped with the necessary tools to confront and deny any external force that suggests or proclaims their inadequacy.
To overcome these barriers against reaching success, it is important to know our rich history and the organizing of our forbearers. In our North Carolina and Washington DC chapters, the overwhelming majority of the students who participate in our program are students of color, with 100 percent of the DC students being male students of color. Understanding the demographics, the history presented is that of the Civil Rights Movement. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2011) showed that many of our states fail to teach the major events, people, and places of the Civil Rights Movement, therefore producing high school graduates void of a framework to understand why modern efforts at school and residential segregation, voter suppression, and other issues, have a deep and complicated history. In the DC Chapter, every Thursday, Adrian and I discuss racial oppression and political disenfranchisement with a historical foundation that shapes the student’s understanding of contemporary vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow. It is with this critical perspective that our students become equipped with the tools to overcome these barriers and engage the external forces head on.
In order to show the greatest degree of love, we must believe that the success of all our children is inextricably linked with our own. I believe this deeply, and carry James Baldwin’s words with me every day as I continue juvenile justice advocacy and service: “For these are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” If we love our children, and truly want the best for them, then we must also care for and tend to those who are most vulnerable. It is never enough to wish our children well; rather we must be active in creating the spaces where success is attainable and where all children can thrive.
As the nation rallies behind the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, let us not forget our young brothers and sisters who are currently committed in residential detention centers. If we are truly invested in successful rehabilitation, then we must bring the unique needs of these children to the forefront. Failure to so means that we have chosen to fail all of our children. Therefore, let us commit ourselves to building strong, safe, and successful communities where all our children can prosper. This is the greatest act of love that we can do right where we are.
Visit the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to find out how you can contribute in your home state.
In service to our children,