Unlocking Knowledge of Those Impacted by Juvenile Justice System
“The real crime lies in how society views us.”
This indictment by a young individual cited in a report by the Shelby County Youth Council in Memphis stings because it is true.
Activists of all ages in Shelby County have no illusions about dislodging deep systemic racism but they demonstrate increasing impatience about how minors are treated in the largest county in Tennessee.
Salina Shamsuddin with the Youth Justice Action Council did not mince words with me when talking about how grownups need to behave.
“It’s oppressive to call us children and kids because it has a negative connotation that is
not empowering to us so we’d like to be referred to as youth … Catching them [adults] and
standing up for ourselves is one of the biggest things that works and people really
understand they cannot treat us like this anymore.”
The Youth Justice Action Council (YJAC) centers its work on those directly impacted by the juvenile justice system in Memphis and developed 10 legal demands in its “Break the Chains” written petition and rap version . YJAC used these specific demands in its campaign to defeat the District Attorney and Juvenile Court Judge who tried many Black and Brown youth as adults.
Following this victory, the Youth Justice Action Council hosted a forum for the newly elected Judge, DA and County government officials. In small groups, two YJAC members shared their firsthand stories about the juvenile justice system and one of the other Council members facilitated. Adults were toldnot to interrupt or interrogate. Another one of the facilitators, Milana Kumar emphasized
“. . . the need to center on the experiences of systems impacted youth as opposed to just
recommendations. It’s harder to invalidate when they [DA and others] are faced with the trauma they have caused and cannot distance themselves.”
One Youth Justice Action Council representative serves on the five-member Shelby Countywide
Juvenile Justice Consortium, all appointed by the Mayor. This is not a token position. In fact, this repand the YJAC have credibility and clout plus strong rapport with the adult members.
“I don’t think we’ve ever made a decision that has not had a youth voice…They are our checks and balances. We are really led by them.”
– Rebecca Davis, Chair, Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium
The Youth Justice Action Council (YJAC) is a youth-led organization that advocates for juvenile
system reform. It is sponsored by Stand for Children Tennessee, which advocates for improving
public education and for racial justice.The 100-year-old organization in Memphis, appropriately called Bridges USA that recently prioritized youth-adult equity and racial justice, provides the crucial structural support for this intergenerational symbiosis.
There’s a bit of disbelief that systemic change can actually happen. Even with the horrific murder by police of Tyre Nichols, the recent election fuels the determination of Salina, Milana and justice-impacted advocates to erase the superpredator view that sociologist Mike Males debunks in The Terrifying Plunge of Youth Crime .