Black History Month: Civic Engagement at AFJ with the Kalief Browder Foundation

After launching HIRE UP in 2020 to provide online training, life skills and mentoring during the quarantine,  Avenues for Justice (AFJ) has continued to build this program and provide new classes on a hybrid platform to reach more youth across New York City.  One new component is the Youth Activism and Communications (YAC) training. Funded by New York Community Trust, YAC training empowers our Participants with skillsets to express their views and experiences on issues impacting them.

YAC training encompasses several HIRE UP online and onsite classes including digital literacy, videography, mental health sessions, social media with writing skills, and mentoring others. It also includes three courses which cover topics which impact our Participants: Legal Rights & Responsibilities, Teen Empowerment Podcasting, and Civics and Community Engagement led by Akeem Browder, co-founder of the Kalief Browder Foundation.

To kick-off Black History Month, we wanted to highlight Akeem’s upcoming class with Avenues for Justice, as well as his work at the Kalief Browder Foundation. 

Akeem’s brother, Kalief Browder, was an African American youth from the Bronx who was held at Rikers Island jail, without trial, between 2010 and 2013 for allegedly stealing a backpack containing valuables. While at Rikers, Kalief was placed in solitary confinement for nearly two of those three years, where he was subjected to inhumane treatment as depicted in TIME: Kalief Browder Story. After release in 2013, Kalief tragically committed suicide two years later in 2015 at the age 22. Kalief was never convicted of a crime. 

In response to his death, New York City halted solitary confinement for adolescents in 2015. The City launched a new, limited model for those over age 22 in 2021---a model that the new mayoral administration may reverse.  New York State also legislated new limitations in 2021. However, solitary confinement up to 20 days, renewable every 60 days, remains a steady practice in several parts of the state. Nationwide, as of 2019, 61,000 are held in solitary confinement on any given day.

The Kalief Browder Foundation was founded soon after by Kalief’s brother, Akeem, to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and to bring Social Emotional Intelligence (SEI) to youth and young adults. The New York State Education Department quickly incorporated the Foundation’s curriculum into its own Social Studies Framework for high school students in 2015. 

As part of the curriculum, AFJ Participants will engage in critical thinking exercises, learn relationship building skills and examine the criminalization of poverty, race and trauma.  Weekly topics will include Civics, Voting, Court Advocacy, Legal Rights, City and State Government Structure and Lobbying 101.

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