Celebrating Ten Years of Youth Advocacy: "Know You Have a Purpose."

Shyara Hill, Youth Advocacy Intern,
Shyara Hill at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C.

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. Shyara Hill is the Youth Advocacy Intern and an alumna of Juveniles for Justice and the Youth Speakers Bureau. Her advocacy work includes issues like juvenile court fines and fees and juvenile record expungement.

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 have always been interested in justice reform because of the challenges I experienced when I was in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. So, one day I decided to join Juveniles for Justice  because I saw opportunity; an opportunity to share my story in ways that would contribute to justice reform. At the time, I was 18 years old. As a part of the program, I served for three years as a member of Juveniles for Justice and an additional three years as a member of the Youth Speakers Bureau.

The support from Juvenile Law Center has been outstanding from day one. If I need someone to  show up for a presentation, a graduation, or even to sing "Happy Birthday" to one of my children, I know someone from Juvenile Law Center will be there. I’ve also had their support in seeking additional job and program opportunities. Staff members have written several recommendations for me to participate in jobs and programs like City Year, Power Corps PHL, Whole Foods, White Dog Café and several national committees. I believe that by being a part of Juveniles for Justice, I found a place where I belong—a place that helps me develop professionally and personally, and a place that has provided me the space I needed to heal and grow. 

I have worked on so many projects over the years at Juvenile Law Center, but one of my favorites has been working on highlighting the impact of court fines and fees on youth and families. With this project, I have been able to share my experiences nationally and have helped shine a spotlight on this issue.

Some additional J4J projects that I loved working on include a project called “Youth Guide to the Juvenile Court System: An Information and Advocacy Guide" which allowed youth to learn their rights and understand  how the justice system works. Another project involved creating an expungement card for youth, giving them information on how to get their record expunged, and working with the Defender association of Philadelphia to create a hotline for youth to call to begin the process for expungement in Philadelphia. Our expungement cards are still handed out in Philadelphia, and many youth have called the hotline to begin the process to have their records expunged. I am so grateful to have worked on this project and to see the impact it is having on youth.

Working on these projects has allowed me to learn so much, and I believe it has enabled people to begin to see and understand the challenges that youth are facing in our justice system. I hope to help give decision-makers ideas and action steps they can take to ensure youth are kept out of juvenile placements—or kept safe if they are there. In general, this helps to create awareness of the collateral consequences of youth entering placement.  

This year J4J is celebrating ten years as a program! The program has been very successful. It’s great for J4J to celebrate this work during Youth Justice Action Month this October. Not only is it J4J’s ten-year anniversary, it’s the 10th anniversary of Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM). For ten years, YJAM has elevated and amplified conversations about the need for better youth justice polices. At the same time, Juvenile Law Center has been empowering youth who have/had experience in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to advocate for themselves and for systemic reform! 

I am so very excited to celebrate these ten years and show appreciation to all the youth, supporters and funders who dedicated their time to the program over the past decade. Being in this program, I committed to be a part of J4J—it has been both exciting and challenging. With both the challenging and successful times, it was worth it because every time I walked into the office, I knew I was appreciated. No matter how many raises or promotions offered to me, nothing will ever compare to walking into work knowing you have purpose. The pride in that alone is remarkable! Thanks, Juvenile Law Center for creating a safe space for sharing my story. 

In the next ten years I have confidence that J4J will continue to provide excellent skills to young adults and grow in numbers. I also believe that many of the youth who join these programs have the potential to take part in some serious policy implementation. I plan to be one of them.