blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
Children’s Defense Fund
By Nina Vershuta
Our delegation met with the staff of Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), including Avery Irons, Director of Youth Justice Programs, Jasbir Singh and Gabriela Silverio, both Youth Justice Organizers, and Jaime T. Koppel, Senior Program Associate.
After initial introductions of the CDF staff and our delegation’s participants, CDF opened up the meeting with the impressive history of CDF. The juvenile-justice advocacy organization grew out of the Civil Rights Movement in 1973 under Marian Wright Edelman, the first Black woman to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar and a counsel to Matin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. Currently, CDF’s headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. with regional offices in nine other states. CDF-NY has allowed the organization to focus on community education and organizing efforts in the state in order to improve the conditions in which children are being brought up.
Children’s Defense Fund serves as a voice for underprivileged children across the nation, specifically focusing on the need of poor, minority, and disabled children. CDF combines research, public education, policy analysis, community organizing and advocacy initiatives to provide an innovating and effective approach toward ensuring a “healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and a moral start” for every child in the nation.
During the meeting, the staff presented us with statistical measures for the unfortunate reality of the “cradle to prison pipeline.” CDF-NY has launched the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign to put a stop to the funneling of thousands of children down a road of incarceration. Race and poverty have been attributed as the biggest factors in determining a child’s chances of arrest, incarceration, and even death. Describing the civil rights crisis of the 21st century, Marian Wright Edelman has called incarceration “the new American slavery and poor children of color are the fodder.”
CDF has been striving to engage, communicate, mobilize and educate communities, policy-makers and other stakeholders to ensure successful passages of children into adulthood. CDF-NY’s strategic plan for enhanced advocacy also focused upon the negative impact of zero tolerance policies in schools and the many ways in which our schools are criminalizing children.
CDF promotes dignity in schools for all children, intervention programs, community support, and alternatives to punitive measures in the juvenile justice system. Being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, how can we explain that every 33 seconds a baby is born into poverty nationwide or that our country allows children to be charged and sentenced to a life in an adult prison?
GYC in NYC participants were surprised to hear about the juvenile justice situation in the US and policies that foster mass incarceration unprecedented in any other country in the world. Many of us, especially those of us who volunteered for CDF, were inspired by their work and will initiate projects in our own communities to promote equality in opportunities for all children.