Celebrating Ten Years of Youth Advocacy: "It makes people consider our experiences to better the system for all youth."

Bree, Youth Advocate in Juveniles for Justice,
I am an artist, not a juvenile.

This article is part of a series celebrating the tenth anniversary of Juvenile Law Center’s youth advocacy programs, starting with highlighting the impact and future of Juveniles for Justice (J4J) during Youth Justice Action Month in October. Bree is a 3rd-year youth advocate in Juveniles for Justice. Her advocacy work includes issues like juvenile court fines and fees, conditions in juvenile facilities, and educational success for youth with justice system involvement.

Since 2008, our programs have recruited and trained young people with current or past involvement in the child welfare or justice systems to lead advocacy and policy reform efforts in their communities. Please follow our hashtags - #10YearsofYA,#10YearsofJ4J - and become a Youth Advocacy Sustainer to support these young people as they continue to fight for change in years to come!

I decided to join Juveniles for Justice because I wanted to make a difference for other youth like myself who have been incarcerated. Having youth involved in this work is important to me because it allows youth with experience similar to ours— who may be currently locked up or leaving the system—to hear our stories and feel motivated to speak up and get information on how to navigate the system. By having us share our stories and recommendations with other stakeholders, organizations, and youth, we have a way to get involved. It makes people who run these institutions consider our experiences and our stories to better the system for ALL youth.

This program has had an impact on my life by giving me an opportunity to share my experiences without being afraid or ashamed of myself. I felt supported and comfortable being in J4J because I am doing work with other youth with similar experiences whom I can relate to, and it makes me feel like I am not alone. I also felt supported by Juvenile Law Center staff and from everyone here in many ways. I have gotten direct supports for education and other resources such as job opportunities.

I am overjoyed that I have had this experience and have been able to be in this program for the past three years. I am learning so much about the justice system, like my rights as a youth who was incarcerated. I have also gotten to learn a lot about myself and have grown so much during my time here. I feel like I now have the ability to truly help other youth who have also experienced what I have faced in the juvenile justice system.

One of my favorite projects that I am proud of and was glad to work on was the 2017-2018 J4J project to raise awareness on the harsh conditions youth face in juvenile facilities. During this project, I was also able to share my story at Juveniles for Justice’s meeting with Councilwoman Helen Gym. After our meeting with the Councilwoman, she called for a council hearing in Philadelphia on institutional placements for youth. At the hearing to the public and Philadelphia City Council, my peers shared about their experiences and recommendations to ensure that all youth are safe in placements. I am excited to continue this project and was so amazed when my peers in Juveniles for Justice, and I received citations from the City of Philadelphia for our work on this issue, which is now being referred to as the #SafelyHomePhilly movement.

As Juveniles for Justice continues to grow, I would like to see us develop more opportunities to help youth who are currently incarcerated, to elevate their stories. My wish is for the programs to add on a component that would allow youth advocates to work directly with youth who are still locked up, potentially giving them an opportunity to leave the facility for one day and participate in a workshop with Juveniles for Justice. I would like us to connect with them and have Juveniles for Justice share our experiences and encourage them to speak up about their experiences. I would like to work to have more positive opportunities for them—both in placement and when they leave the justice system. I am so inspired by this idea because I know the great impact Juveniles for Justice has had and will continue to have on my life. I know that it can do the same for other youth.

Congratulations, Juveniles for Justice, for these past 10 years!