First, Gather the Elders. Then, Gather the Youth.

The Gathering for Justice believes in the value of intergenerational leadership, to utilize the wisdom of the elders and harness the energy of the youth. In the span of five days, we convened five generations of activists at A Calling: The Civil Right of Education and lifted up the leadership of the young generation at the Gathering of the Youth.

The Gathering of the Youth was a 3-day, movement-building youth conference focused on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline through Juvenile Justice Reform, Gun Violence Prevention, Gender Equity, and Transformative Politics. Here are some of the highlights of this incredible gathering.

Juvenile Justice Reform

Pedro Hernandez and his family have received a lot of attention since the injustice he experienced made national headlines and was featured in an award-winning documentary. Yet this weekend was the first time he’s shared a stage with his brother, Luis Hernandez, and his mother, Jessica Perez. It was inspiring to see how this family has transformed a painful period of their lives into a fierce intention to make change. (Listen to Jessica talk about bail reform with Carmen Perez on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning on October 10, 2019)

Carmen Perez opened the Friday night program by sharing her story with attendees, from her childhood in Oxnard, California, through her 20 year path to becoming a nationally-renowned organizer and activist. She shared her tradition of closing meetings and gatherings with Assata’s chant:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom… It is our duty to win… We must love and protect one another… We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

On Saturday, Jay Jordan of Californians for Safety and Justice, Jeannette Bocanegra of Community Connections for Youth and Cadeem Gibbs, Young Leader Coordinator at the National Juvenile Justice Network, discussed “Reimagining the Justice System from the Inside Out”.

Gun Violence Prevention

Justice League NYC member and recording artist Keris Lové participated in a panel on rethinking our approach to gun violence prevention. She shared a stage with Shanduke McPhatter of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes (G.M.A.C.C.), a violence interruption and prevention organization that has dramatically reduced shootings in Brooklyn, and youth activist Brooke Baker. Andrea Gonzales of Youth Over Guns moderated the discussion, which challenged conventional approaches to understanding and addressing the problem of gun violence.

Keris also gave a sneak peek at a new song featuring Mysonne, Jackie Cruz and Feefa. “I Believe” is an anthem for the movement, and will drop soon.

Gender Equity

Throughout the weekend, we centered the unique experience of women and queer people in our movements for justice. Toni Wilson, a social worker, community organizer, a Black feminist from Brooklyn, moderated a panel called “The Black Girl Experience: Weaving through Gender-Based Violence, Racial Justice, Education, and More” with panelists Alliyah Logan, Operational Manager at the NYCLU’s Teen Activist Project; Brea Baker, a nationally recognized activist and Justice League NYC member; Justice for Black Girls Youth Ambassador Jada Bradley; and Victoria Pannell, an accomplished young activist fighting child sex trafficking and gun violence.

Transformative Politics

One of the first speakers that attendees heard from was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who welcomed the young people into the space and thanked them for their commitment to making their schools and communities better for themselves and their peers.

Bright and early on Sunday morning, State Senator Brian Benjamin joined us for a panel on “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline through Transformative Politics”, along with Kay Galarza, Luis Hernandez and moderator Zarina Iman. Senator Benjamin stuck around afterwards for a deeper discussion with the young people about building power to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.

Of course, transformative politics means much more than just elections and voting. Carmen Perez led a training in the practice of Kingian Nonviolence with her mentee Brea Baker. Understanding the principles of nonviolence is essential to applying the strategy for gaining power to win change. “Nonviolence is not passive,” says Carmen, “It is a strength-based approach for achieving justice.”

Cultural Impact

The weekend was also studded with cultural offerings. The room was packed when Ebro Darden, host of Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning and board member of The Gathering for Justice, stopped by to drop some wisdom and share stories about using his voice as a force for good in the world.

We also enjoyed some beautiful and interactive performances by the Peace Poets, who over the years have created and shared many anthems for the movement.

Building A Movement

Most importantly, the young people in attendance spent the whole weekend immersed in learning and knowledge sharing, building connections and inspiring each other. Some of the discussions made space for serious and emotional explorations, like the ‘world cafe’-style discussion on Sunday morning, where attendees reacted to the weekend in a safe and authentic space.

But there was plenty of space for joy and community all weekend, and the young people in attendance created new bonds infused with their shared passion for justice.

These young leaders are only just beginning their journeys in activism. Stay tuned to follow the story as they become next year’s movers and shakers in the Justice League NYC and in New York’s state house.

The Gathering for Justice

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We’re building a movement to end child incarceration and eliminate the racial inequities in the justice system. #JusticeLeagueNYC www.gatheringforjustice.org/

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