Voices of Education Justice
This site is the product of a partnership between Jonathan Stith from the Alliance for Educational Justice and Professor Mark R. Warren from the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The collaborators also include youth organizing groups advocating for police-free schools in seven cities across the country. These amazing essays were written by young people leading police-free schools organizing efforts with the support of graduate students at UMass Boston enrolled in Mark’s course on Community-Based and Participatory Research, co-led by doctoral student Bianca Ortiz-Wythe. The students interviewed the youth leaders and drafted the essays using the words of the young people. Each youth leader then edited and finalized their essay to make sure it told the stories they wanted to tell in their own words.
Our goal was to highlight the role of young people in advocating for schools free of police monitoring, control and violence. We wanted to help students express their voice and be recognized for their leadership in changing their world. In the essays, young people share the identities that matter to them, talk about how they got involved in youth organizing, discuss the victories they have won and the struggles they still face, and reflect on the meaning that participation in these efforts has had for them in their lives.
The partnership proved to be a powerful experience for all concerned. We hope you enjoy reading these essays and learn from these amazing young people. When you are done exploring these essays, please check out the testimonials from UMass students about the impact working with youth leaders had on them. If you are moved by these essays, please consider supporting the national Campaign for Police-Free Schools and/or the local police-free schools movement in your area.
From School Suspension to Youth Leadership: The Critical Voice of a Youth Leader Fighting for Students Rights
by Bryan Aju
The Police-Free Schools movement is a movement in which students demand the elimination of police and school safety officers in public schools across the United States. Students like Bryan Aju are advocating for policy and systemic changes from all levels of administration and leadership levels. In Bryan’s story, we learn about a student’s community involvement that has increased commitment to social justice, developed leadership skills, and improved her life and the life of her community.
Read Bryan’s Essay >
by Ashzianna Alexander
Ashzianna Alexander is a student activist and an active leader in Black Girls Matter, an organization in her high school. She is also involved with Freedom Inc., a social justice and leadership development community organization. With Freedom, Inc. Ashzianna has become a leader in the No Cops in School movement advocating for the removal of police in her school.
Read Ashzianna’s Essay >
by Brigette Amaya
Brigette Amaya is a senior organizer at the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, California. Brigette is 22 years old, having developed her consciousness, leadership and organizational experience since 2014 through the Strategy Center’s “Taking Action Social Justice Club” in three high schools, which she now facilitates. Below, Brigette shares some of her story as an organizer working towards police free schools, as well as exploring the meanings she’s made out of her story and experiences.
Read Brigette’s Essay >
by Cristian Flores
Cristian Flores is a youth organizer with Future of Tomorrow (which is part of Urban Youth Collaborative in NYC). Cristian makes a clear connection between the equality and respect he feels within his own family to the larger struggle to extend these conditions to all marginalized groups. Cristian takes pride in his leadership and self-discipline and has been able to use these qualities to fight for social justice for his classmates, friends, and family in Brooklyn.
Read Cristian’s Essay >
by Alison Fortenberry
Alison Fortenberry is a youth from Philadelphia whose own identity, experiences, and compassion have moved her to struggle in the movement for police-free schools and against the threat that the presence of police officers present to the racial and economic vulnerabilities of Black and Brown students and the greater community. Alison has tapped into the revolutionary ethos of a Black Radical Tradition that is engrained in the air and soil of Philadelphia. Her story warns us of the ways police officers in schools are positioned as gatekeepers of structural economic and social exclusion.
Read Alison’s Essay >
by Amina Mosley
Amina is an energetic, bubbly, powerful youth organizer. She is poised and collected, especially when sharing the story of her interactions with police and security inside and outside of school and her passion for youth organizing. Her pride in being a Black female and all that Black females have done and currently do in her community is awe-inspiring and provides so much hope. So does her quest to end toxicity in our schools. Amina is a powerful example of what students and young adults can do to change our society for the better, not just for their generation but for generations to follow.
Read Amina’s Essay >
by Madison Ordonez
Madison Ordonez is a young college student who has already found her path. At just 18 she tells her story of an incident that changed her life, bringing her closer to understanding her own identity and her desire to advocate for others who have a similar background as herself. Since that moment, she has been involved in numerous equity initiatives and organizations leading her to current membership in Padres & Jóvenes Unidos (PJU) and the fight against the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines.
Read Madison’s Essay >
by JoseEduardo Ramos
Collaborating across time zones, Chris Dickson who is in Providence RI spent an afternoon listening to JoseEduardo Ramos’ story. Jose is a youth organizer in South Phoenix, Arizona. Jose is an artist, community leader, and soon to be high school graduate this coming May. Below is Jose’s story told with the assistance of Chris. I invite the reader to pause as you journey through Jose’s story and see both his courage and commitment to making a difference within the Police-Free Schools Movement.
Read Jose’s Essay >
Police Free Schools is What is Going to Transform the Country: A Youth Organizer’s Vision into Creating a New Generation of Abolitionist Society
by Leidy Robledo
Leidy Robledo narrates a powerful story of how she started organizing for her rights as a student while she was still in middle school. Soon after, Leidy’s family moved to Colorado and she attended a predominately white school. She came face to face with the disparities in terms of policing and resources between the schools she had studied all her life and the current school. Identifying as a Brown Latinx woman and working closely with a group called Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, Leidy came to understand the need to remove police from schools. This was a huge shift for her as growing up she had seen policing in schools as normal.
Read Leidy’s Essay >
by Veronica Rodriguez
Veronica Rodriguez is a Youth Organizer with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. She describes her experiences with police that led her to engage in the No Cop Academy campaign and defunding Chicago Police. She believes that resources devoted to policing should be invested in the community instead. Veronica shows that being part of movements and campaigns helps the community become resilient and grounded and she talks about becoming an organizer who supports the next group of students to grow as leaders.
Read Veronica’s Essay >
by Brielka Rodriguez
Brielka (she/her/hers) is a fifteen-year-old freshman at Curtis High School and has been an inspiring youth leader at Make the Road Staten Island for about a year. She has been advocating for police-free schools and re-allocation of NYPD funding to have more guidance counselors and therapists in high schools. Brielka believes that her engagement and dedication to have police-free schools in New York can possibly have a positive impact for other youth like her around the world, for people to come together to communicate without violence. As a youth leader, Brielka is the voice of the movement and sees herself as a future organizer to help kids and youth like herself to change the world.
Read Brielka’s Essay >
Don’t Tell Me the School-To-Prison Pipeline Doesn’t Exist: A Youth Leader’s Journey from Speaking Up in Class to Shouting Out in Protest
by Michelle Ruiz
Michelle Ruiz is a leader in the Arizona fight for safe schools. As an active member of the Cops Outta Campus movement, Michelle has long been motivated to fight for the rights of students of color, like herself, so their experiences at school would be better than her own. Inspired by a family of hard-working, inspiring male leaders, Michelle became a strong, independent Latinx advocate from a young age. She carved her own path, learned to navigate new experiences, and now leads others in the fight to create fair learning opportunities for youth in the Arizona Public School system.
Read Michelle’s Essay >
by Alexa Salazar
According to Alexa Salazar, Boyle Heights isn’t the LA you see in the movies. It’s full of culture and, more specifically, has a large Mexican population including her own family whose struggles inspire her to speak out against injustice. Alexa attends Roosevelt High School where she learned about her Hispanic heritage. It was where she found out she was different. She is motivated by the work Taking Action does to stop abusive policing practices and has even brought her mom with her to protests. Alexa hopes to one day share more of her story so that she can teach others just like her.
Read Alexa’s Essay >
by Lil Tree
Lil Tree is a youth organizer with #CopsOutCPS (Chicago Public Schools) Campaign and BLMchi (Black Lives Matter Chicago) Youth who through cheerleading at all the marches and protests for the police-free schools movement, has found her voice. During the summer, they faced some of the hardest opposition in their struggle for police-free schools through police violence and having their loved ones hurt. In spite of the challenges that confront the movement, they have found purpose, community, and are building legacy.
Read Lil Tree’s Essay >
by Jermaine “Jayy Jayy” Wright
Jayy Jayy is currently a student of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an organizer with the Chicago Freedom School, a talented singer and dancer, and a street medic during protests. He utilizes his skills and passion in the movement, using song and dance to uplift others at protests and employs his medical knowledge to help the injured when situations escalate. Through his organizing Jayy Jayy has built relationships, found community, and gained a sense of leadership and advocacy.
Read Jayy Jayy’s Essay >
by Selena Yang
Selena Yang is an Asian-American student who is currently a senior in high school. She has been working with Freedom Inc. in the campaign for Police-Free Schools in Madison, WI since she was in middle school. Having seen the racial-profiling and biased treatment of her Black and Brown peers at school, Selena has joined other leaders of the Freedom Youth Squad under Freedom Inc. to protest policing in their public schools. They have attended countless school board meetings to give their testimonies.
Read Selena’s Essay >
From Police-Free Schools to Free Public Transportation: The Story of a Youth Leader’s Fight for Radical Change
by Emily Zamora
Emily Zamora, a youth organizer for the Labor Community Strategy Center, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and is first generation El Salvadorian-American. While Emily talks about the police-free schools campaign, along with her colleagues at the Strategy Center, she works to make change for many other issues, including free public transportation, and a reimagining of transportation in Los Angeles all together, including a vehicle-free city. The Strategy Center has seen success in the police-free schools movement by winning budget cuts to funding police presence in Los Angeles public schools.
Read Emily’s Essay >