The following is a message to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. employees from the organization’s CEO, Jeff Fleischer. YAP is a national nonprofit in 29 states and the District of Columbia that provides community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and out-of-home placements.
“I prayed for freedom for 20 years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” — -Frederick Douglass
It’s been 155 years since the original Juneteenth in 1865. That’s not such a long time ago. I had a great grandfather born around 1865. Many African-Americans living today in America have ancestors that were enslaved in this country only three or four generations ago. A blink of the eye… As a kid in the very early 60’s, on a family trip thru Virginia, I remember seeing signs on stores, “no colored allowed”. That’s in my generation. It isn’t ancient history. And we are blessed to still have civil rights champions who worked in the 60’s in congress and many heroes still living among us who still have their “eyes on the prize”….
Yet it took two and a half years for word to reach Texas that slavery had ended on June 19th 1865! That must have been the longest two years ever for those in bondage. It was justice delayed.
Slow motion to 2020. Slavery, Reconstruction, The Jim Crow era and lynching, segregation, and to today’s police killings and mass incarceration. There has been no break from the days of slavery. It’s one horrific continuum. Out of years of continued oppression and frustration, and police murders, some recorded on cell phones, another powerful civil rights and human rights movement takes hold: Black Lives Matter. Through this movement many of us have learned, it’s not okay to just not be racist, we have to actively work to oppose racism whenever we see or experience it.
The Founders of YAP first worked in programs created by President Johnson’s war on poverty in the mid-60’s during the height of the civil rights movement. They carried that ethos with them as they created YAP’s vision and mission. Close down youth prisons! Bring kids out of detention! Unite families! Bring youth home from faraway facilities! Stop racial bias! Divest from prisons and the youth justice system and invest in communities! These would be YAP’s bumper stickers over the last 45 years as YAP joined the march for freedom.
Today, we still have justice delayed. We still have way too many Black people disproportionately being shot down in the streets. Too many disproportiinately arrested and incarcerated. Too many disproportionately victims of the pandemic. Too many hungry. Too many out of work and out of school. Too many children trafficked. While our nation spends billions of dollars on incarceration, probation and parole, we have yet to truly invest in our communities. Communities are places where we can achieve justice. We can care for our children, young people and families. We can support one another. We can nurture and protect our young people.
So, as Yappers, and as we remember Juneteenth and all it conjures up, let’s pray like Frederick Douglass; with our legs! Let’s walk along and accompany our youth and families as they go thru a biased justice system, let’s run to liberate our youth from behind bars, let’s jump high to advocate for our young people and change racially biased systems, and let’s kneel down on one knee to call out injustice and bias and racism, wherever and whenever we see it.