Focusing on issues of police brutality, particularly use of deadly force against unarmed black and brown people, activists in the Black Lives Matter movement have brought national attention to stories of police violence against black and brown people and made racial justice a key issue this campaign season. BLM activists take care to connect these issues to broader attacks on black lives by calling out systemic racism within the education, housing, and criminal justice systems. This persistent and widespread inequality has an enormous impact on the lives of black and brown people in Connecticut resulting in significant opportunity gaps – especially for youth. Youth of color in our state are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to attend underperforming schools, and are detained and incarcerated at rates far higher than their white peers (for the same offenses).
On Saturday, August 8th, youth leaders at Hearing Youth Voices (HYV) held a Rally to Demand Education Not Incarceration in New London drawing a crowd of 50 people. Norwalk’s Youth Council for Justice (YC4J) and other youth organizing groups, including CT Students for a Dream and Grow Hartford, traveled across the state to stand in solidarity with HYV leaders.
Noting that black students are much more likely to experience this type of discipline than white students, HYV and YC4J drew explicit connections to the Black Lives Matter Movement. This culminated with a moment of silence for the anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown and all other Black men and women across the country who have died as a result of police violence.
The crowd included several local politicians and the chair of the Board of Education who heard the stories of students affected by these policies. Students like Sarah, a YC4J leader and recent graduate of Brien McMahon High School, shared her experience with bullying, truancy, and pushout. “When I moved to CT in 7th grade, I was bullied. My self-esteem plummeted and so did my grades. Suddenly I was a ‘bad student’, a truant and I was told I had only one choice – an alternative school. I tried everything to get back on track but the school refused to support me because of the labels they had helped to create.”
These intense personal stories set the stage for the group’s demand to end the “school to prison pipeline,” which funnels students into the juvenile justice system.
According to Nylah Greaves, Youth Organizer at Hearing Youth Voices, the group is now engaged in conversations with school leaders, and is committed to seeing their campaign through. “Hearing Youth Voices is currently working with the Superintendent of schools and the Board of Education to change policies and much has come from it but not enough. We will continue to fight until our youth – Black youth and youth of color – receive an equitable education.”