Interns: Vida Chechman, Michaela Tyus
Volunteer: Isabella Frieda Orendain, Kendall Ota, Kyle Peterson, Layla Ali, Suaad Nour
Mentor: Aeramique Blake
“I don’t know exactly how to do it yet, but I just want to do SOMETHING. I want to create social change...but I just don’t know where to begin. That was how I felt until I joined SFI and this thread.”
During our first meeting, our Thread met at Kroc School’s Garden of the Sea where we had a chance to get to know each other, share our passions and explain why we chose the topic of criminal justice reform. We, as SFI Interns, were amazed by the Volunteers' passion about the criminal justice system and how it affects people of color. The Thread had a deep conversation about the role of youth and how they can be used as a powerful tool to impact injustice. One of the Volunteers said “youth are powerful and once we are given an opportunity to engage in positive ways through learning, doing, and leading, we are a vital force in our quest for justice for all”. And that was when we came up with Color of Justice as the name of our Thread.
As Color of Justice, our mission was “to advocate for and support people of color while validating their humanity. We work to combat the systematic oppression in the penal system through restorative practices.” Our five amazing Volunteers used their immense passion and desire for systematic change to actually kick start a fresh and unique opportunity that we hope will have a huge impact on the current state of the criminal justice system.
With the picture of a larger project in our heads, our brainstorming process started off with some exceptional ideas. Our Thread talked through hosting social media campaigns, where we would potentially lay out statistics about the criminal justice system and the way it is affecting people of color. The Thread also talked about bringing police and youth together for a social event as a way of initiating a conversation and building a bridge between the two sides. Then the Thread began to go more in-depth on the topic and was very intrigued by the living conditions of formerly incarcerated people and the challenges they face after they get out of prison. We started our research on that subject and we came to a conclusion that many incarcerated people end up being homeless after serving their time in prison. The Volunteers wanted to work around this topic and do something to help the homeless in their neighborhood.
“Youth working towards justice for all.”
With Aeramique Blake, know to most as Meeka, being our Mentor, the Volunteers were able to learn from the rich experience she has in the field. We learned about a youth organization that she runs called Generation Justice, where San Diego teens come together, organize events, and participate in protests and action calls against injustices in the criminal system toward people of color. Generation Justice was planning to hold their first annual Youth Justice Summit in early August. The intention was to bring together San Diego law enforcement and youth to participate in a restorative circle discussing the difficulties that both youth and law enforcement are facing. They also planned on including workshops about activism and the school to prison pipeline. We noticed that Color of Justice shared a lot of similar goals with Generation Justice. Therefore, we decided to join forces and plan the event together.
Our five amazing Volunteers used their immense passion and desire for systematic change to actually kick start a fresh and unique opportunity that we hope will have a huge impact on the current state of the criminal justice system.
In order to plan for the event, we first met with Generation Justice members. We had a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level and learn about their work in the community. We were amazed by their passions and their dedication for making change. During the first meeting, we began the planning process by assigning tasks and creating roles and responsibilities. We also created an availability sheet in order to plan future meetings.
As a Thread, we had to not only be a part of the planning process of the entire event but also plan for our own section, Packaging Peace. Kyle was responsible for reaching out to organizations, social clubs and centers to advertise for the event and invite them to our networking session. Suaad and Isabella were assigned as the MCs and worked together with Kendall on writing the script for the main portions of the event. During the event, we had Layla and Kendall as our media crew and they were in charge of filming and interviewing event participants, asking them for their insights about the event and how youth can take an active role in reforming the criminal justice system. Vida and Michaela were responsible for purchasing all the supplies and the items that went into the care packages as well as supervising the project as a whole.
During the event, it was very inspiring to see the amount of youth and adults participating in the breakout sessions, the presentations, the restorative circle and our last session, Packaging Peace. Police, youth and community members all worked together for one common cause, which was creating care packages for youth impacted by homelessness in San Diego. We created 70 bags that included 8 different snacks, socks, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle.
After the event, we did some research and learned that the area around Pacific Beach is where most homeless youth reside. Therefore, we decided to head to that area and give a helping hand to people in need. The process of distributing the care-packages was very interesting, fulfilling, and emotional at the same time. Emotional, because it was hard to see the amount of people living on the street. Fulfilling, because by the time we finished our distribution and were walking out of the area, we saw our colorful bags at every corner of the streets. Our care packages obviously does not cover all of their needs but it helped put a smile on their faces!
This video shows some of the highlights of our Youth Justice Summit event, from the keynote speakers to the breakout sessions, the restorative circles, and the Packaging Peace Process.
When the project was over, we finally got to take a look back at how far our Thread had come over the past 3 months. We did amazing work and created a meaningful social change project, which was inspired by the Volunteers' passion and intensity for criminal justice reform. At our first few meetings, our Volunteers were pitching project ideas that would’ve required double the budget we were given and almost double the amount of work. They were very set on starting a revolutionary movement and aimed for it to not only go viral, but to have a lasting impression on the officials in the justice system. Although we were admirers of their ambitiousness, we were nervous that the Volunteers would be so determined to achieve this high level project that they would be disappointed by the reality of our budget and timeline. However we were shocked at not only how flexible and understanding our volunteers were with a much smaller project, but how excited and dedicated they were. They each carried out their individual roles without any problems, and even reached out to one another when they needed help. Assigning each Volunteer a different task allowed them to really dive deep into the project and feel like they each brought something unique to the final project. At the SFI Summit Event, the Volunteers were so proud and excited to explain their project to their family and friends.
In the end, this Thread exceeded any and all expectations. Seeing the impact we had on their lives and hearing the thankfulness and pride in their voices was beyond anything we had ever imagined. We were in shock at how much our Volunteers appreciated and valued their time with SFI and would choose to do it all over again in a heartbeat. This touched our hearts more than any project or conference; they were truly the fire of our Thread.