My child’s experience with the juvenile system was not as entrenched as many of the families I have grown to love and respect in this fight, but it was scary nonetheless. He was arrested at age 14 while walking home from school with some friends and doing what kids do: get nosy. They saw dust kicking up from a fight across the street and they went to get a closer look. Some 3 hours later my search for him led me to my local police department where he and a large number of young, minority males just like him, had been in custody getting questioned about ‘suspected gang activity’ all that time. I had not been contacted and neither had my son’s father about his arrest. One police officer told me that even though he knew that my son had nothing to do with things that he would still be charged and we would have to work it out in a court of law. I still don’t understand how that works. I thought you were innocent until proven guilty in America?
That day I learned a very valuable lesson: justice is NOT blind; it only sees what it wants to see. In the months that followed we experienced multiple court dates, ridiculous plea offers and even negative treatment from those in touted positions ‘to offer help’. I think the most disturbing thing was the 3 criteria for getting ‘help with an at risk youth’: Welfare, Child Services Involvement or a child already adjudicated (locked up)…we met none of those and I knew right then and there that if justice was going to be served it would require a push. They say necessity is the mother of invention and I am a living witness to this fact. Renewed Minds was born based on that very premise…and has now evolved into Raw Wisdom LLC!
Fighting for my son opened my eyes to the horror of what has gone unchanged for many years in this system. The only thing that separated my child from many just like him was my need to protect him and my unrelenting commitment to doing whatever it took to do so. When it was all said and done, he was exonerated of all charges, but I couldn’t let this go. How many other children had accepted a plea not understanding the ramifications for their lives? How many parents had trusted that those who took the oath to ‘serve and protect’ would truly do that in a fair and just manner? How many schools realized that they were the entry point to a larger, more heinous system that thrives on blood and fear: the School To Prison Pipeline? My mind was blown and I wanted to fight for everyone!
Advocacy and Personal Accountability are what we base all of our efforts on at Renewed Minds. We’ve accepted the challenge of educating our community at a grassroots level about the need for family voices and village activism to protect our youth. Our efforts have been met with some resistance from some of the ‘powers that be’ and we understand why. It is difficult to accept the help of a ‘village’ when it has been silent for so very long. Gone are those days though and the reason is because we have found, as families of youth across this nation that have been ignited to action, that our voices have POWER! We will not take a back seat anymore because we can’t. The myth that we don’t care, aren’t smart enough and won’t fight back is being dispelled on a larger scale everyday as we educate ourselves on the policies, the practices and the performances of entities that are not accustomed to being questioned. My advocacy began as just a mom trying to make sense of the senseless and get help while doing it. Today, my advocacy is for ALL the sons and daughters who need someone to fight for them. Who better to advocate for a child than its family?
The definition of family has changed over time. In the world of system involved youth it means anyone who is willing to pick up the mantle of responsibility, provide a supportive arm, a listening ear and hand to hold during one of the most horrific and life changing experiences anyone can ever have. Relationships not built by blood can be some of the strongest and most effective. In the world of juvenile justice advocacy our ‘family bond’ has been preordained and forged in a collective vein of pain and fear so we fight back. Being inactive no longer works for us, so we fight HARD! Until every child is given a fair chance and racial and ethnic disparity is no longer an issue in America, we will fight. Until each and every individual, family, community is at it’s best, WE WILL FIGHT! It’s like we have always said at Renewed Minds and STILL believe as the Raw Wisdom Squad: ‘Get ready! Your village has been ACTIVATED!!!”