Youths in Programs Rally for Youth Policies

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Loud State-ments: Program participants and alumni from around the country rally in Washington for juvenile justice reform.

Photo: YouthBuild

Washington—More than 500 young leaders, most of them participants or alumni of youth-serving programs, came from around the country last month to press lawmakers to reform juvenile justice policies and fight poverty.

The MTV-sponsored event, dubbed “Our America,” included poetry and dance performances, an appearance by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and young speakers who were former participants in such programs as YouthBuild, City Year, Year Up and The Corps Network.

“I dropped out, I got locked up,” said 23-year-old Rashawn Facey-Castillo, an alumnus of Year Up, looking back on his days growing up in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. He said he was caught between two philosophies often uttered on the streets: “Seize the day, tomorrow is never promised; and yet, tomorrow is only there for those who prepare for it.”

Facey-Castillo is now pursuing a master’s degree in business.

The central message from the speakers and attendees: Send fewer youths to jail, and help them avoid landing there.

“They don’t rehabilitate you at all,” one attendee from Camden, N.J., said about the juvenile facilities in his area. “They just tell us when we can eat, go to the bathroom, when to sleep.”

The audience also got a surprise visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“You are not the future; you are the right now,” Jackson told the pepped-up crowd at the Lincoln Theater. “You can make the choice for a future over a funeral right now. You can dry up the drug market right now.”

YouthBuild USA used the event to release “The Declaration of Inter-dependence,” the third iteration of a policy statement created by its National Alumni Council and Young Leaders Council, which recommends ways to improve the lives of low-income youth. Among its recommendations: Increase access to computer literacy training, improve screening of foster parents, and examine the possible economic incentives for incarcerating young adults at “for-profit prisons.”

YouthBuild participants also visited Capitol Hill to share their views on poverty issues with congressmen. Kerry encouraged them to not mince their words.

“Give them hell, will ya please?” the senator said.