Nov 04 2014

Heading to Geneva…To Charge Genocide

On Saturday, a group of eight young people of color (ages 19-30) from Chicago will board a plane to Geneva. There, they will present a report about Chicago police violence against young people of color to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. It’s been difficult to articulate my thoughts and feelings about this trip and this delegation of incredible young people. I have too many emotions wrapped up in the endeavor.

As I type, I remember the sense of helplessness that threatened to overwhelm me when I saw and heard Damo‘s friends pour out their grief at his killing by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in May. I also admit to being scared of the chain reaction of pain and hopelessness that this loss could engender in our close-knit community. As I considered ways to honor Damo’s life and to transform our grief into healing, I turned as I often do to history. I was still a young person when I first read “We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief From a Crime of The United States Government Against the Negro People.” The petition and especially the story of how much was overcome to actually present it to the United Nations have stayed with me for years. Wading through grief, fear and anger, I returned to “We Charge Genocide” as a vehicle that could be retooled and reinvigorated in this historical moment. The organizing that my initial call has engendered is incredible and I claim no credit for it. The group of people involved in this effort are committed, selfless, smart and talented. The outpouring of community support has been inspiring.

There have of course been critics and that’s to be expected. Critique is good, cynicism is not. Some delegation members have been told that the UN is a toothless, corrupt and/or useless institution. To be sure, there are many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the UN. I have my own. All institutions should and can be critiqued. And yet, many of the critics miss the import of this trip for the delegation heading to Geneva and for our communities. Some of loudest and most cynical people about this effort have been white. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence. For too many white people, representation matters little. They are not invisible. They are always centered in all narratives. Whiteness has the power to invisibilize and consume everything in its path. So for some white people, it means nothing that this is the first time that a delegation of young people of color will appear before the UN Committee against Torture to make a case against police violence. But I promise that it means a lot to the young delegates that they have an opportunity to be “seen” and “heard” on the international stage if only for a few minutes. To be clear, a number of white people have supported the delegation and its efforts (including being members of WCG) but it’s been instructive that the most vociferous critics have also been white. White critics have also taken issue with the name “We Charge Genocide” but that’s for a future post.

Beyond representation, the WCG delegation is carrying the stories of many young people in Chicago who have for the first time publicly shared their experiences of being targeted and tortured by the police. These stories were previously buried and the pain, though real, remained bottled up for too many. At the August youth hearing where WCG collected some of these stories, many young people thanked us for the opportunity to share and as one young man put it: “to finally let it all out.” WCG delegation members are acutely aware that it is a sacred trust to carry and then share these stories.

Poet Kevin Coval writes that “[e]very institution in Chicago fails Black youth.” And he is right. Thousands of young people of color in Chicago are being failed on a minute by minute basis. We must condemn and hold accountable the systems and institutions that are supposed to ensure the health and well-being of young people in this city. Going to the UN to demand that they call out the Chicago police for its torture of young people of color is an outside/in strategy to insist on accountability. It is just one strategy but we have to rely on all available tools and resources at our disposal if we want to transform our conditions. This has always been part of our history as black people in particular.

It matters too that WCG delegates are making an international claim. It’s an acknowledgement that this struggle for justice is a global one. For this trip, a number of the delegates applied for their first passports. For many, it will be the first time they’ve ever been outside of the U.S. and this too matters. Sometimes, one can only understand their country by leaving it and seeing it again through outsiders’ eyes. There will be delegates at the UN from countries all over the world. This will offer an invaluable opportunity to learn from them about their struggles and to make some connections that can enhance the work here.

Finally, I return to Damo. It’s difficult to express how much it means to members of the WCG delegation that they will be able to invoke Damo’s name and share his story at the UN. Since I don’t have the words, I’ll let his friend Ethan speak the final ones:

Oct 25 2014

Damo, We Speak Your Name: Resisting Police Violence in Chicago

Dominique (Damo) Franklin, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life mattered. Look at what you’ve inspired…

In May, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Months later, answers about his killing are still elusive. To conclude my post about Damo’s death, I wrote:

“He was managed throughout his life through the lens of repression, crime, and punishment. And now he is dead and those of us left behind must find a way to heal while building more justice. We’ll continue to fight in Damo’s memory because we won’t allow his death to have been in vain…”

We are keeping our promise. On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in manifestations of Damo’s legacy.

Damo, in a couple of weeks, your friends and peers are on their way to the United Nations in Geneva to tell your story that of countless others who have perished and been tortured at the hands of the CPD.

Your death has inspired this song though we would rather have you alive and here with us. The telling of police torture is a mourning song. But the protest on Wednesday evening reminds me that it is also a freedom song.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life matters.

At Wednesday’s protest, your friends and peers invoked your name; placing it alongside Roshad, Deshawn, Rekia and Mike’s.

“Protect and serve that’s a lie, you don’t care when black kids die.”

I am really tired and I am incredibly inspired. I am still struggling to find the words to express my feelings. So I am going to rely on photos taken by friends and comrades to end this post. I am privileged and humbled to organize with a wonderful group of people. I wish Damo was here to join us.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life still matters… In your memory, we will continue working to shut down oppression.

Read more »

Aug 22 2014

Artistic Interventions About Events in Ferguson…

Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.

Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.

Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.

Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness

We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store

I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.

by Sandra Khalifa

by Sandra Khalifa

A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:

Mar 20 2014

Image of the Day: #NoMoreJails

From the YBCA Young Artists At Work:

YBCA Young Artists' At Work (December 2013)

YBCA Young Artists At Work (December 2013)

“The youth of San Francisco will be at the helm of shaping the future of the Bay Area. In response to the proposal for a new SF jail we created a mugshot photo booth to show the faces of SF’s future. San Francisco has enough jails and building a new one will only lead to increasing the numbers of youth, folks of color and long term city residents that are incarcerated. We say no to the new jail. #nomorejails”

Dec 27 2013

10 Things To Know About Juvenile Justice & Youth Criminalization in 2013

Last week, I offered a summary of some of the key issues related to the prison industrial complex in 2013. Since the main focus of my work is actually juvenile justice & youth criminalization, I decided to make another list that addresses some key 2013 developments in those areas.

1. The U.S. youth incarceration rate continues to decline but we still lock up too many children.

One of the most heartening trends over the past decade has been the steady decrease in the use of incarceration to address youth crime and misbehavior.


According to a new report:

“For the 2001-to-2011 ten-year period, the number of confined youth declined by 41% nationwide, or an annual average decline of 4.1% — a dramatic drop since 2000, when a record-setting 108,802 youth were held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S. The nationwide decline in 2011 (from 70,793 to 61,423 youth) continues the trend from the previous year (the latest for which data is available), which showed youth confinement was reduced by 32% nationwide from 2001-2010.”

Unfortunately, poor black children remain disportionately targeted.


Since all credible research shows that incarceration and detention don’t work, many jurisdictions are relying more regularly on alternatives to youth incarceration.

2. School closings in urban centers overwhelmingly impacted youth of color (black children in particular)..

Victor Hugo has written that: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” It stands to reason that the reverse is also true: “He who closes a school door, opens a prison.” Chicago roiled in 2013 with grassroots opposition to the proposed closures of over 50 schools. Opponents contended that these school closings were racist as they would disproportionately target black students and increase the likelihood that they would be pushed out of school. Some background resources about Chicago’s school closings can be found here.


Some of the most vocal opponents of school closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C. etc… were students themselves. 9 year old Asean Johnson became a household name when he spoke out forcefully against Rahm Emanuel at a rally that I attended.

Students at Williams Elementary organized a sit-in to protest their school’s proposed closing.

Williams Elementary School Protest (2013)

Williams Elementary School Protest (2013)

In the end, Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board shut down nearly 50 schools. This was the largest mass school closing in the U.S.

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

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Dec 07 2013

Image of the Day: Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917

Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917. (The Brownies' Book)

Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917. (The Brownies’ Book)

I’ve written about the Silent Protest Parade previously here.

Nov 22 2013

Still Fighting for their Lives: Youth-Led Trauma Center Campaign Continues…

Far away from the Washington Beltway, where politicians are playing games with heath insurance coverage for millions of Americans & the media are focused on brinksmanship, a group of young activists in Chicago have been fighting for three years to establish a level 1 trauma center on the Southside. It’s been an uphill battle from the start but the young people have been persistent, patient, and pro-active. They belong to groups like Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Students for Health Equity (SHE), and Reclaiming Inner-City Streets and Elevating Chicago (RISE Chicago).

And they’ve been fighting for their lives and those of their peers…

Wednesday was a major turning point in the trauma center campaign. A hearing was called by Rep. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) “to look into whether people are dying on the South Side from gunshot wounds because the specialized care they need is all at hospitals on the North or West sides of the city or in the south suburbs.” Veronica Morris-Moore, a key leader of Fearless Leading By the Youth (FLY), summed up her feelings after the hearing in a Facebook post [thanks to Veronica for giving me permission to share her words]:

“Hearing meeting downtown at the State building was a step in the right direction for the Trauma Center Campaign. It felt good to be heard in that type of setting & also hear Senators, State Representatives, doctors, & other community members say a lot of things the youth have been saying, for years, about the lack of Trauma Care on the south side of Chicago & what needs to be done about it.”

Details about the hearing can be found in news reports here and here.

Following the state hearing, youth and their allies took part in a coffin protest marching to the University of Chicago hospital. Veronica reflected on the protest this way:

the protest at the University of Chicago Hospital was HELLA deee oooo peee eeee. A lot of committed youth leaders & allies used collective effort & selfless committment & to show that no matter what our communities endure nothing can diminish the fight in us. & seeing all those people holding signs demanding trauma care showed me that we are building that fight in the right direction. & the more they try to ignore us the louder we will be.

Today felt like progress & at the very very end of the day thats ALL we want.

I have nothing left to say except to express my profound gratitude and admiration for the young people and their comrades who continue this life and death struggle. Below are some photographs taken by the terrific Sarah Jane Rhee of the coffin protest.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11-20-13)

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Aug 14 2013

“Youth Rise Up – Radical Resistance” Summit: August 24

Thousands of Youth: One Voice

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, youth leaders from Youth Service Project’s summer Arts and Leadership program invite you to a for-youth-by-youth summit focused on fighting for education as a basic human right. Youth will connect the structural violence of educational injustice with on the ground violence prevention efforts on the streets of Chicago.

Youth will lead popular education workshops and panel discussions about youth-led community organizing, restorative justice, community-led resistance to police brutality, and arts as resistance.

There will be a community block party with hip hop and spoken word performances, live graffiti and mural art, breakdancing, and a bar-b-que feast.

Saturday, August 24th

Youth Summit
w/workshops & roundtables

Community Block Party
w/hip hop, spoken word, graffiti, & breakdancing

McCormick YMCA – 1834 N Lawndale

For more information, email

If you would like to register for free childcare, please complete the following information.


Aug 11 2013

Some Things End: Reflections on Love, Struggle, and YWEP

For over a decade, I have been privileged to be in community with youth and adult members of a unique and transformative organization called The Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP). I served as a board member, adviser (when called upon), supporter, cheerleader, booster, funder, and just an unabashed fan.

Yesterday evening, I gathered with dozens of YWEP members and supporters to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments and contributions. We were also together to mark an end to YWEP as an organization. The work of YWEP will obviously live on in new and different ways but the organization will soon officially close its doors. There are myriad reasons for YWEP’s decision to end its operations. Someday in the future, I’ll have some comments about these.

I was interviewed yesterday and asked to reflect on the organization’s history and work. It gave me a chance to discuss the ways that I’ve been influenced by YWEP as a youth worker and person. Quite simply, YWEP taught me about love, humanity, and struggle.

The young people who joined YWEP over the years are among the most marginalized youth in Chicago. There are black & brown girls (for the most part), trans* youth, poor kids, youth who trade sex for money and survival needs, people in the street economy, and substance using & sometimes abusing teenagers. And here’s the thing: at YWEP none of these identities or behaviors are defining. YWEP youth are treated simply as HUMAN and they are offered unconditional love and support.

They are considered leaders and experts in their own lives. I saw first hand how previously insecure young people slowly gained confidence and voice. I marveled at the metamorphosis of youth (who were previously seen as talentless) into brilliant artists (poets, visual artists, musicians). No one is disposable at YWEP. Every single one of us is “priceless.”

It is primarily through YWEP’s work that I learned the importance of centering healing in youth organizing. I learned from watching them how to put Audre Lorde’s words (not just the pithily cited ones) into PRACTICE.


YWEP is the embodiment of radical love and self-determination. Those two things made the organization a threat and a constant target of those who cannot abide people of color and the marginalized loving ourselves and each other, especially in public. I remember the consistent death threats and the persistent danger in doing the work. Yet those who moved the work forward have kept their integrity, compassion, and most importantly humor throughout.

Years ago, I read an essay by June Jordan titled “Where is the love?” It was transformative for me.

And it is here — in the extreme coincidence of my status as someone twice stigmatized, my status as someone twice kin to the despised majority — it is here, in this extremity, that I stand in a struggle against demoralization and suicide and toward self-love and self-determination. And it is here, in this extremity, that as a Black feminist I ask myself and anyone who would call me sister, Where is the love?

And it seems to me that the strength that should come from Black feminism means that I can, without fear, love and respect all men who are willing and able, without fear, to love and respect me… this means that as a Black feminist I cannot be expected to respect what somebody else calls self-love if that concept of self-love requires my self-destruction.

I can say that the love for YWEP was manifest at last night’s celebration and so too was YWEP’s love for all of us. It IS truly radical as oppressed people to love ourselves in spite of all of the ways that this is precluded. YWEP is a space where our humanity was consistently affirmed and where we were reminded of where love resides (in ourselves and between each other). It made it possible for so many of us to stay in the struggle. I am forever grateful.

Today is the last day to make a donation to support YWEP as it moves to close its doors. I hope that you’ll consider making a contribution as a way to say thank you to the amazing people who have been involved in YWEP’s work over all of these years.

Jul 31 2013

Invest in Education, Not Prisons: A Youth-Led Rally To End Violence & Reinvest in Communities

Youth activists from Fearless Leading by the Youth (F.L.Y.) and their supporters held a rally and press conference this morning to demand that funds be re-directed from incarceration to restorative justice efforts and other positive youth interventions. The rally took place at the Cook County Offices downtown to coincide with the monthly board meeting. The rally marked the 6th year anniversary of FLY and the Audy Home Campaign.

Some of the youth dressed as prisoners to make the point that the $40 million spent by Cook County to jail youth at a cost of over $500 a day would be better & more effectively spent at the community level providing needed resources.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

“Cook County Board members are failing our youth, incarcerating youth isn’t working, and it is wasting money,” said youth activist and former detainee of the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center Auntraney Carter. “We are outraged that that as our friends die the county’s only response is to increase spending on juvenile detention.” (Source)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/31/13)

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