I grew up in the Inland Empire and founded SBX Youth & Family Services to dismantle the barriers that are preventing young people from succeeding. While our goal was, and continues to be, youth mentoring, in 2014, we made the decision to get involved in systems change and advocacy work.
At the time, we were seeing kids getting pepper sprayed and put in handcuffs on campuses at all ages and knew it was time for a change. It was time to eliminate law enforcement from school campuses and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. Our society has gotten away from our ancestral roots and the idea of “your child may not live with me, but your child is my child.” Because of that, we even see parents of color internalizing racism and speaking the language of the oppressor when they say it’s ok to lock up other children. If we don’t intervene, we’re going to pay for that destruction and suffer the consequences for our inhumanity towards our children.
Anyone who makes an argument in favor of law enforcement is ignoring the facts and the data. Police in schools do not make our children safe and, more specifically, they criminalize Black and brown youth. As a result, we are condemning our young people to a life of poverty, trauma, and a path to prison.
That’s how we got involved in fighting the school to prison pipeline. With the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, the ACLU and NAACP, we filed our first successful lawsuit to start reforming the juvenile justice system. The lawsuit focused on reimagining what safety on school campuses looks like and resulted in cutting the number of police officers in half on campuses across the county. By suing the County of Riverside on behalf of the students, we argued that the county’s Youth Accountability Team (YAT) program spent millions of dollars funneling children into an unconstitutional probation system that denied them their due process rights and subjected them to oppressive, invasive policies. Through a historic settlement, the County now no longer has the right to enroll young people in the probation program for adolescent, non-criminal behavior. Instead, we can ensure that youth receive due process protections and positive incentives instead of punitive restrictions.
Our goal now is to completely eliminate any form of law enforcement on campus. We, as a society, have been conditioned to think that law enforcement prevents crime, when all they do is respond to it. And, whatever they do respond to, all too often turns into racial profiling. All of these things can be prevented if adults do their job on school campuses. Everyone knows when a fight is about to start or a kid is being bullied. We are not being preventive, nor are we giving young people mental health support to live and think healthier. More affluent communities have these supports because they don’t allow their children to be criminalized, but we have zero tolerance policies that do nothing but destroy the most marginalized young people. Instead of asking them what they need, we criminalize them.
There is no way our nation and California will be able to create a healthy society for everyone if boys and men of color are forced to head in the wrong direction. We need to uplift boys and men of color and dismantle the systemic racist barriers that restricts them from living a productive and healthy quality life.
It takes courage to speak up, be consistent, and not be afraid to get into good trouble. Right now, we have to have courage to reimagine and to dream what safety could look like. In this moment, we have the opportunity to reclaim the power that each of us have and use it to create a world that allows everyone to be more prosperous and healthy. If you’re a young person, the time to fight for the future you want is now. The future is not for someone else, it’s for you. Young people have a unique opportunity to transform society into the one they want to live in. My call to action to them is: step up; you have nothing to lose; this is your time.
I want to repeat the wisdom of John Lewis: “step up, have courage, get in the way, speak out, the time is now”. I believe this is the second Civil Rights Movement. I know that, at this moment, I am doing everything I can. When we look back on history, we tend to ask “why didn’t they do this?”. Now it’s your turn to do something.
Corey Jackson is the CEO of SBX Youth & Family Services, a nonprofit organization focused on breaking the cycle of poverty and violence through mentoring, education and organizing.