Posts tagged with "prison reform"

MLWXBF chapter 4 illustration via Alison Christenson for use by 360 Magazine

Ivy League BLM Courses

By: Emily Bunn

Ivy League Schools to Begin Teaching “Black Lives Matter” Courses

Proving their commitment to diversity and understanding, several Ivy League colleges will begin offering courses on the Black Lives Matter Movement. Whereas other Ivy League schools, such as Cornell, have created Africana Departments that focus on the centrality of Africa and the African Diaspora to the modern world, BlackLivesMatter classes are situated in a specific cultural moment. Though, of course, the Black Lives Matter falls under the umbrella of contemporary African history, it is positioned in a more concentrated, modern application. Princeton and Dartmouth are the two first schools to begin accrediting this intersectional coursework. While Princeton most recently enacted their BLM coursework, Dartmouth has been pioneering this change since 2015.

Dartmouth’s Black Lives Matter course discusses topics such as The Ivory Tower, understanding St. Louis and its racial history, race and class, racial violence, and systemic and unconscious racism, among other topics. Part of Dartmouth’s course description reads, “though the academy can never lay claim to social movements, this course seeks in part to answer the call of students and young activists around the country to take the opportunity to raise questions about, offer studied reflection upon, and allocate dedicated institutional space to the failures of democracy, capitalism, and leadership and to make #BlackLivesMatter. Developed through a group effort, this course brings to bear collective thinking, teaching, research, and focus on questions around race, structural inequality, and violence.” The course is taught by a wide variety of professors from different academic disciplines and social backgrounds. Taught for ten weeks by close to 20 different professors, Dartmouth’s Black Lives Matter coursework stands as a comprehensive example of a cross-disciplinary concentration that recognizes and situates history in a contemporary, American context.

Princeton’s #BlackLivesMatter class looks to examine the “historical roots and growth of the Black Lives Matter social movement,” and is “committed to resisting, unveiling, and undoing histories of state sanctioned violence against Black and Brown bodies.” Princeton’s #BlackLivesMatter’s course description reads as such: “This seminar traces the historical roots and growth of the Black Lives Matter social movement in the United States and comparative global contexts. The movement and course are committed to resisting, unveiling, and undoing histories of state sanctioned violence against Black and Brown bodies. The course seeks to document the forms of dispossession that Black Americans face and offers a critical examination of the prison industrial complex, police brutality, urban poverty, and white supremacy in the US.” The course’ sample reading list includes selections from Angela Davis, Claudia Rankin, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

Princeton’s course will be taught by Professor Hanna Garth, who has previously taught “Race and Racisms,” “Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory,” and “Theories of Social Justice.” Garth’s self-defined interest in “the ways in which people struggle to overcome structural violence” and past experience has well-prepared her for teaching this class. Garth remarks, “All of my research, teaching, and mentoring is designed around my commitment to feminist methodologies and critical race theory.”

While some have aggressively asserted that Princeton’s course readings are from a former communist party leader who once made it on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, their negativity further highlights the necessity of this course. While these assertions may be true, it is telling that certain critics commonly overlook the individual’s many (more recent) accomplishments. The author in question is Angela Davis – a revered, respected, and well-educated civil rights activist, philosopher, academic, and author. By painting Davis as an unpatriotic, dangerous criminal, it distracts from the important lessons that are to be learned from this influential leader. Similarly, Fox News’ article on Princeton’s new course links their mention of the “Black Lives Matter” movement not to an explanation of what the movement is, but instead to a page on US protests. As opposed to creating an educational resource for what the BLM Movement is, conservative critics are quick to jump to claims of Black violence and riots.

Especially in 2021, as the United States grapples with the fight for racial and civil justice, discussions surround race, policing, prison reform, and politics are more pertinent than ever. It is absolutely essential that our nation’s college students are exposed to critical race theory and critical thinking. By shielding America’s youth from the necessary history of this country – which is still being experienced today – we are only putting them in a position of increased vulnerability and ignorance. Knowledge is power and educating oneself on society’s issues is the only way to efficient work towards progressive social change. Hopefully, as the most prestigious academic institutions begin to model examples of intersectional and anti-racist coursework, other colleges and universities will soon follow suit.

Image via 5WPR for 360 Magazine

Q×A – Co-Founders of Révolutionnaire

Justice Faith Betty, and Nia Faith Betty are co-founders of Révolutionnaire, a new social platform aimed at social awareness and activism. Originally a dance-oriented clothing brand started by sisters Justice and Nia, it has grown into a larger movement to empower the youth via a platform for education and conversation. We got to speak with the founders and one of their Action Leaders Naheim Banks below.

We were informed that you grew up with family members in the prison system which drove you towards a life dedicated to criminal justice reform. Can you talk more about how your activism and advocacy have expanded since you began this journey?

Naheim Banks: As you said, I have had family members involved in the system, and one of the things I realized while experiencing that was that our system is not a criminal justice system, but rather a criminal legal system because justice is what so many people don’t experience or get while going through our legal process. When I first began this journey on criminal legal reform, I started something in my school district called Teen Court, which is a youth diversionary program for minors that commit misdemeanors and other infractions. Part of what drew me to this work was because I could see myself in many of these kids, many of them in high school and middle school, who have parents working long hours, parents who are incarcerated and having to grow up way too fast. These kids happened to lose the moral luck lottery and have made mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we should let those mistakes define who they are for the rest of their lives. People are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. I was encouraged to take my activism further when I saw voters reject Affirmative Action in my home state of California, reject cash bail, and reject a piece of legislation allowing for California to decertify police officers for misconduct despite being only one of four states to not have the authority to decertify law enforcement officers. Upon witnessing this, I decided to run to be an Assembly District Delegate to the California Democratic Party with the slate ‘Organizing for Progress’. Since being elected, I have made it a point to continue pushing the party to endorse legislation that supports Black lives and allows us to reimagine our criminal legal system. One of the ways I’m also doing that is by educating the public on legal reform through Révolutionnaire and our Action Guides and Petitions.

How has attending Howard University, an HBCU, impacted your views on activism and criminal justice reform?

Naheim: Attending Howard has really encouraged me to put myself out there and take risks. Before attending Howard, I always tried to fit into what Nikole Hannah-Jones calls, white spaces that are not made for people that look like me, and impact change within the confines of what is deemed ‘acceptable’. Not anymore. I no longer sugarcoat or tone down the issues that I am passionate about. Part of this huge passion that I have for criminal legal reform and my increased activism on the issue stems from the confidence Howard has instilled in me. Being a criminology major, I have had professors like Dr. Bahiyyah M. Muhammad that have so much passion for prison reform that their passion often rolls over onto you. At Howard, we have people that have non-profits like Just Us that mentors youth involved in the juvenile legal system; we have people that have started environmental justice organizations, gun reform organizations, and so many others that it inspires you to truly get out there in your community and make lasting change.

How did you find Révolutionnaire, and what drew you to become a part of the organization?

Naheim: I had followed Révolutionnaire since its original creation as a way to revolutionize dance apparel and empower all to celebrate the skin they’re in because I had never truly seen dance apparel that actually matched Black skin. I had been an outspoken advocate for criminal legal reform and when Nia Faith, one of the founders of the organization, reached out to me, I just couldn’t say no. Seeing the impact Nia and Justice already had on their homes, their schools, and their communities is what really inspired and drew me to become a part of the organization. I distinctly remember hearing Justice’s Valedictorian speech and one of the things she said that really fueled my love for Révolutionnaire, was that ‘Dreams Fuel Revolutions’. Everyone on this team has a dream for a better world and I just love having the opportunity to be a part of it.

What exactly are your responsibilities as an Action Leader with Révolutionnaire?

Naheim: As an Action Leader, I write about specific issues related to criminal legal reform such as the death penalty, three-strikes laws, and the War on Drugs. I give information to those that want to get more involved in legal reform initiatives and facilitate knowledge sharing and member engagement through writing petitions and 101 Action Guides on the issues that plague our society’s broken legal system.

Your website mentions that Révolutionnaire began with the idea to ‘revolutionize nude apparel’. Can you talk more about how this mission came about and what work has been done thus far?

Nia Faith Betty: I started Révolutionnaire as a dancewear line catering to dancers of color after growing up as a ballerina and never having access to apparel that matched my skin tone. I was tired of constantly feeling othered and dreamed of a more inclusive dance world. Today, the Révolutionnaire Shop has a collection of apparel and accessories for dancers, athletes, and everyone to celebrate the skin they’re in.

Justice Faith Betty: I was inspired by Nia’s journey and dream of revolutionizing the dance world and asked what it would look like if more young people with a dream of improving their communities had access to the network, tools, and information necessary to scale their impact across causes. And that question laid the foundation for Révolutionnaire – the social network for changemakers.

We’ve heard about the five key causes on which Révolutionnaire is centered. Can you tell us more about what work is being done by Révolutionnaire to specifically target these issues?

Nia: We’ve started off with five pillar causes (i.e., racial equity, environmentalism, criminal justice reform, housing + food security, gun reform) with more to come. Change starts with staying informed, so we’ve made information about each of these issues accessible to our audience by breaking down topics into 101 guides. Action items are embedded at the end of each 101 guide so members can move from learning about a problem in society to taking action – whether it’s through contacting their representative, signing a petition, finding volunteer opportunities, making a donation, or participating in another mode of engagement – all from within our platform. We also have action guides across our cause hubs for members to launch their own projects in their communities.

As Révolutionnaire continues to grow, it has been really exciting to see and hear about members getting their ideas off the ground and finding a network of supporters to ideate with.

Justice: We’re committed to making this work more sustainable through leveraging the power of technology to build community among like-minded young people. We recently launched group offerings and have spoken to so many youth-focused organizations who are excited to connect with other orgs doing fantastic work, feel a little less lonely on their respective journeys and scale their collective impact. As a further commitment to sustainability, we will be launching our Recharge library to offer our members content focused on mindfulness and self-care.

How can young people, like Naheim, get involved with Révolutionnaire?

Justice: Whether you are someone who has wanted to make a difference, but perhaps doesn’t know where to start or have been doing this work for a long time, but are looking for a community and resources all in one place to take your impact to the next level – join Révolutionnaire. If, like Naheim, you are excited about contributing your voice on issues that matter to you and have ideas for how young people can take action, we welcome contributions from community members directly on Révolutionnaire through blog posts, lounge conversations, action item submissions and petitions!

Have you experienced any pushback as young women trying to influence such radical change? If so, how do you combat that?

Nia: There are oftentimes unspoken rules and gatekeeping measures that make getting involved in activism daunting and intimidating for young people. We have revolutionized and streamlined how people get involved in changemaking, service, and activism. With anything that is new or different, there are always situations where people don’t agree with it or don’t want to evolve the current ways of taking action to adapt to the changing times. At the end of the day, we always focus on the net good. If the end result is positive change and more young people getting involved with making the world a better place, then we are on the right path.

Make sure to follow Nia, Justice, Naheim, and Révolutionnaire for more!