ROOTS Weekend Richmond: “Creating a World Without Prisons”
By Jeree Thomas, Policy Director
The Campaign for Youth Justice had the pleasure of participating in ROOTS Weekend Richmond from April 20th-23rd in Richmond, Virginia. The gathering was a part of Alternate ROOTS weekend series that brings together artists, activists, and community members around themes involving social and economic justice.
The theme for ROOTS Weekend Richmond was “Creating a World Without Prisons” based on the Performing Statistic Project in Richmond that focuses on youth de-incarceration in Virginia. The weekend spotlighted the legacy of slavery and its impact on present day mass incarceration. On Saturday, participants went on a guided tour of Richmond, the city that once was the capitol of the Confederacy and the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast from 1830 to 1860. In 2016, it was the highest committing community to Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, and its deep end youth prisons.
The weekend was full of powerful performances, discussions, and workshops on the intersection of slavery, preserving and uplifting the identity of individuals who are marginalized in America, and shining a light on how the prison industrial complex serves as a painful vestige of history. However, many of the discussions focused on how to move forward and how to think outside of the prison cell. The Campaign for Youth Justice, in partnership with artist and activist, Kate Deciccio, did an interactive workshop with over 40 participants at ART 180 focused on mapping youth out of the adult criminal justice system. Participants started the workshop by learning myths from facts about youth in the adult criminal justice system and then moved into small groups where they discussed their beliefs about how youth should be treated through a moral compass exercise, before using a map and special road signs to map youth out of the system through messaging that each group agreed upon. The conversations were deep, thoughtful, and could have continued for hours.
“Arts, Activism, and Advocacy” is the Campaign for Youth Justice’s theme for Youth Justice Action Month this year. We hope communities across the country begin or continue conversations around how art can strengthen policy campaigns, engage communities, and change the conversation around what all youth deserve, even those youth who have made mistakes or unwise decisions.