By Judith McCray
Chicago, IL– The growth of America’s prison population has resulted in the largest number of imprisoned individuals in the world. This mass incarceration phenomena, especially in the disproportionate imprisonment of African American and Latino men, is being addressed in organizations and institutions across the U.S. seeking understanding and solutions to change policies that are punitive and discriminatory. For the 2014-2015 school year, Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) has initiated a civic engagement project for its students to investigate the criminal justice system and develop projects that heighten awareness and recommend policy solutions.
“The YCCS Mass Incarceration Project is intended to develop youth advocacy and community building. YCCS students will conduct research projects that will compare the American penal system to others around the world, and explore the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people and how these practices negatively target and dismantle family and community networks,” said Kimberly Hopson, YCCS Resource Coordinator and facilitator of the project.
To accomplish the project goals, YCCS is collaborating with several educational organizations, including Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, Free the Children/We Act, Chicago Freedom School, and Young Chicago Authors. In addition to reading Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and other research on the topic, and developing specific projects in their individual schools, YCCS Students will attend classes at Roosevelt University and engage in workshops offered by the Mansfield Institute. Students will have opportunities to work with teachers at the Chicago Freedom School on empowerment and “adultism” skills. Professional development in civic engagement and service learning will be offered to teachers by Free the Children/We Act, and students will attend the We Act event on April 30, featuring Jennifer Hudson and Martin Luther King III at the All State Arena. Students will also attend workshops on building critical thinking and creative writing skills with Young Chicago Authors.
“We have crafted a collaborative effort that will afford YCCS students every opportunity to gain competencies in critical thinking, effective communication, creative exploration, and active contribution, while having first hand experiences in exploring, understanding and addressing this critical social issue,” said Hopson. “By shedding light on this subject and its impact on their everyday lives, we hope to challenge the way our students think and act as a community,” she added.
The Mass Incarceration Project will conclude on April 16, 2015 in a campus- wide youth conference, hosted at Roosevelt University. Students will exhibit their project findings in a variety of presentations and have an opportunity to speak to a panel of law makers and law enforcement personnel. Prince Ea, a spoken word activist from Detroit, is tentatively planned to be the keynote speaker on the program.
“We couldn’t be happier about this collaboration with YCCS,” said Heather Dalmage, director of Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation. “I don’t know of any other large school system that has students involved in examining and participating in this issue. YCCS students have the possibility of being completely transformed by this experience. And with their personal and social transformation, they can transform the world,” she added.
For more information, contact Kimberly Hopson, YCCS Resource Coordinator, at (312) 328-0799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.