Last year, Coach Clay, World History teacher at Kingsbury High School, reached out to MSPJC staff about working with his students throughout the 2018-19 school year. In June, we began conducting ongoing workshops with his fourth period Freshman class. Every Wednesday morning, members of our organizing and training department visit the class to facilitate exercises that explore topics like privilege and oppression, labor and liberation history, know your rights education, the roles of social change, and more—connecting these topics to the class’ world history curriculum.
Recently, we have also begun introducing the students to guest speakers comprised of local leaders, organizers, and activists to inform their understanding of current events and local issues. This month, we had our friend Sydney from Memphis Feminist Collective visit to discuss MFC’s work, in particular, their role in the Mariposa Collective, working to provide relief to undocumented immigrants being released en masse from detention centers with little to no food or clothing. Just this past week, we welcomed, District 7 County Commissioner, Tami Sawyer, who spoke on a number of topics including #TakeEmDown901’s successful efforts to remove Confederate statues from our public parks, police accountability, and what led her into activism, and ultimately electoral politics. Commissioner Sawyer encouraged youth to work toward improving their school and neighborhoods, and MSPJC intends to be there to provide whatever resources necessesary to support them.
When it comes to our work at MSPJC, one thing often leads to another. Our work around homelessness with H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality), and our members’ experiences with police harassment led us to filing complaints with internal affairs and documenting that process (read our guide to filing a police complaint). This eventually led to our campaign to restore and strengthen Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB). During this three year campaign, calls began to pour in from people who felt that their rights had violated during an encounter with law enforcement. Though from talking with many of them, it became clear that their grasp on those rights were often shaky.
With the collaboration of local attorneys, law students, and community volunteers, we began compiling information into a printed, bilingual Know Your Rights Handbook that we distributed far and wide across the City. The calls didn’t stop though; instead, the inquiries were now seeking someone to come talk to youth about their rights when dealing with police.
To better engage with young people, we developed a Know Your Rights curriculum using improvisational theatre so youth can practice exercising their rights and de-escalate conflict without the real life consequences of an interaction with law enforcement. We began facilitating these workshops for free at churches, schools, and community centers, and in the past 3 years, we have conducted Know Your Rights Theatre with over 3,000 participants, helping them be better prepared, and hopefully avoid contact with the criminal justice system altogether. It was also around this time that MSPJC began hosting High School Interns during the summer through the City of Memphis Youth Employment progeam, training them to facilitate the workshops with their peers.
What about youth that have already come in contact with the criminal justice system? This question led us to broaden our work with youth through MSPJC’s Juvenile Justice Project, working to reduce recidivism and help young people get in compliance with court ordered community service hours by helping Juvenile Court identify and recruit Community Service Site Partners to provide meaningful and restorative, neighborhood based opportunities for young people to get their hours completed, thereby breaking down barriers to compliance like lack of accessible public transportation. We have also hosted several youth conferences that have provided young people the opportunity to complete
Realising that there are many young people who still slip through the cracks, and do end up in the system, in August, our staff began developing and implementing a series of ongoing workshops with youth incarcerated as adults at Jail East. Each session centers around building skills to deal with the emotional trauma and stress that comes with being locked up as a juvenile offender.
With all we are doing, there is still so much to be done, not only to ensure a better world for our young people, but to make sure they are prepared to inherit a world where there will no doubt be struggles to come. We call on you a lot, but that’s because we can’t do this on our own. We rely on the community’s support in order to sustain and grow our work to validate the experiences and struggles of our youth, and support them with the tools they need to find their own voices and and build a future worthy of their dreams.
We invite you to be a part of this work by making a donation of anything you can, or by becoming a Sustaining Member of Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.
Your support means everything to us.