(June 10, 2020) Every day, they’re in their neighbors’ homes, delivering rehabilitative services that would otherwise happen in youth prisons and congregate treatment facilities. Employees of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. know firsthand the work and rewards of reinventing systems that have a long history of perpetuating racial injustice. YAP’s services are a community-based alternative to incarcerating and institutionalizing justice- and child welfare-involved youth.
“For 45 years, we have advocated for state and local government to redirect resources from the youth and criminal justice and child welfare systems to build community-based, family-focused support systems,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer. “Our outcomes, with close to 90 percent of program participants completing our youth justice programs with no new offenses, are a tribute to our staff’s compassion, and their ability to empower youth and families with tools to achieve their goals and give back to their communities.”
Like the national nonprofit’s employees, 70 percent of the young people YAP serves are individuals of color, mostly African American. In 150 communities in 29 states, YAP hires Advocates from the zip codes of the youth and families receiving services.
Delivering YAP’s evidence-based model of providing holistic “wraparound” support, the national nonprofit’s Advocates provide intensive individualized mentoring that helps youth identify and realize their strengths. At the same time, YAP staff members connect young peoples’ parents/guardians with tools to firm their family foundation.
YAP’s individualized service plans can include tutoring; GED preparation; YAPWORX job training and supported work placements with neighborhood employers; trauma-informed behavioral health/drug use therapy; and other support, including helping families with basic needs.
In some cities, YAP also applies its wraparound approach for crime prevention efforts, such as Chicago’s Choose to Change (C2C) program. In Washington, DC, YAP has adapted its model for a Credible Messenger program, which trains and hires formerly incarcerated men and women to support other justice-involved adults, many who are coming home after long prison sentences that began in their youth.
As one of the nonprofits implmenting Baltimore’s Safe Streets public health-informed work (adapted from Cure Violence), YAP hires formerly justice-involved men and women to interrupt violence, resolve disputes and connect their neighbors to tools to support their life goals.
Many YAP staff members know all too well the tragic consequences of police brutality and shootings of unarmed African Americans. As such, they are protesting and leading conversations with the young people they serve and with one another.
Unapologetic Voices of YAP Employees (Opinions shared over the past two weeks)
William Walker, New Orleans YAP Program Director
Each time an African American male (or female) is wrongfully killed by a police officer it will have devastating and lifelong effects on the African American family. I am a witness to this as it has affected my life. More than 40 years ago, my mom’s only brother was wrongfully shot dead in the Oakwood Shopping Mall on the Westbank in New Orleans. My only uncle was killed because he blew his horn at the off-duty police officer while waiting to proceed through a stop sign. The officer evidently became annoyed with my uncle blowing his horn… as if it was a dare to blow your car horn at an officer.
My uncle was unaware that this white man was a policeman, as the man was dressed in plainclothes. When the officer approached my uncle’s vehicle with his gun drawn, my uncle proceeded to get out of his car to address the approaching man when the policeman shot him dead. For simply blowing his car horn! The officer was sitting at the stop sign holding up traffic and my uncle blew his horn to encourage the man to move on, and thus lost his life for doing so!
This ordeal transpired on my 21st birthdate. I have not since, cannot, or will not ever celebrate my birthday as it is also a death date. My point here is that police killing black men has been a lifelong experience for me. In fact, I like most black men my age, consider it almost the norm.
By the way, the police officer was acquitted when the case finally (after nearly 2 years) went to court.
Kimmeshia L. Rogers-Jones, YAP Hudson, Passaic, and Bergen County Program Director
First, I want to say as a black woman in America I am Angry, at times Frightened, and very Disappointed that it has come to this.
Angry- I am angry that no one felt empowered enough to stop that cop from killing Mr. Floyd. I am Angry that countless black lives have been and continue to be taken at the hands of law enforcement and racist Americans. I am angry that the flag and anthem this country holds dear to their hearts does not and has never applied to me and people who look like me. I am angry that it seems that NO ONE cares about the turmoil black people feel. I am angry that I am a forty-four year old black woman who has seen this scenario played over and over thousands of times in her lifetime, and even now with social media and video cameras to document, there is still no change. I am angry that Black lives do not matter. I am angry that the very people we look to for service and protection would rather kill me. I am angry that I have to be in constant fear of my son’s and my daughter’s lives. I am angry that it has come to this, where cities all over this country are burning down as we speak due to the consistent disregard, disrespect, unapologetic infringement of my and my people’s constitutional and human rights. I am angry that the color of my skin is the determining factor to whether I deserve to live or die. I am angry with the thoughts that go through my head as a reaction to what I have seen and encountered as a Black American. I am Angry that I had to ask some of my colleagues and friends to stand with me and they would not. I am angry that I am an Advocate by profession and nature, I advocate for women, men, youth, families, communities and people of different creeds, sex, and race but yet it seems no one will advocate for me. I am angry that in the eyes of racist America I am not human.
Frightened- I am frightened that I or anyone in my family can be killed or put in danger of being killed solely on the basis of the color of our skin. I am afraid that with everything that is going on around us this may not be enough to see a real change in my lifetime. I am frightened that justice (as it has in the past) will not prevail.
Disappointed- I am disappointed in America. I am disappointed in her treatment of black people. I am disappointed that America has not and refuses to take ownership for what they have done and continue to do to black people. I am disappointed that white people have to ask how to be better towards black people. I am disappointed that white people need to be educated on how to treat black people because subconsciously we are thought of as other than human. Do you really need a lesson on how to treat people humanely? I am disappointed in the lack of reaction to Mr. Floyd’s killing but the swift reaction to the looting and riots. I am disappointed in AMERICA!!
Nathanael LePage, YAP Clinton County, NY Advocate
As a white man living in a predominantly white community, I know I will never fully understand the realities of living as a person of color in America. But that doesn’t mean watching the deaths of George Floyd and the countless before him doesn’t make me angry; it does.
I have the luxury of being able to feel safer around law enforcement. People of color, on the other hand, do not. The relationship between those communities and the police has been one of confrontation, profiling and, unfortunately, brutality.
It is an unfortunate reality that we have seen some protests turn into violent altercations and vandalism, but that speaks to the dire situation we find ourselves in. Peaceful protests, such as the one spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick in the NFL, have been met with mockery and hate. Many in the African American community have been pushed to the point of feeling they have no other way to get their message across without crossing the line between protest and riot.
I truly hope that the death of George Floyd can be among the last of these tragedies, but our society has a long way to go before that can be true.
Tim Smith, Baltimore YAP Advocate
I am an outlaw because I’m Black
Does being black equate with criminal behavior or being an outlaw? Wikipedia defines an outlaw as someone declared outside the protection of the law. Anyone is legally empowered to kill them. George Floyd died, because he was an outlaw. He was born an outlaw because he’s black; he had no choice. The public servants who are paid to protect him viewed him as a person who did not deserve protection, and they killed him.
George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner are just a few people who were killed without punishment. Police officers and regular citizens are allowed to kill black people who cause them fear. Somehow the law appears to protect the killers, because no one is receiving jail time for the deaths of these black people.
Many people are demanding justice through various forms of protests. Others across the country disagree with how people are responding. It’s sad that people have so much to say about incidents that they’ve never had to experience. Donald Trump made a speech calling these protests “acts of domestic terror,” but he could be viewed as the biggest terrorist. Dick Gregory said, “To leave people in poverty and buried in ignorance is an act of terrorism.” Who is the President to condemn people for their feelings?
This week, I will be taking my YAP program participants to speak with a Defense Attorney named Roland Brooks. He will be talking to them about appropriate behavior when you are stopped by the Police, and he informed them of their rights. This is a very necessary conversation to have for two reasons: (a) today’s social climate suggests that black people would benefit from information about interacting appropriately with law enforcement, and (b) past criminal charges of the youth I work with indicate that they are likely to have encounters with law enforcement in the future.
Although Roland will be informing them about their rights under the Constitution. My sad perspective is that oftentimes black people’s rights are not protected.
Our citizenship does not equate with freedom within our country. This democracy does not provide equal access to our inalienable rights. Our elected officials and public servants harm and kill us while simultaneously providing protection to anyone who aids in our destruction. We are outside of the protection of the law, which is why protesting is necessary. We cannot continue to be treated as outlaws.
Maria Scott, Wilmington DE YAP Administrative Manager and Advocate
A wound as deep as this is tucked away in a place so deep in my spirit that it scares me to look at it. It pains me in a way that I can’t cry. As a black woman, mother, grandmother, aunt, sister and daughter, I don’t know what to say when my niece, who has a son with autism bursts into tears and cries uncontrollably at the realization that she cannot protect her son. I don’t know what to say to my daughter who at her gender reveal party found out she was having a boy and started to cry out of the fear of raising a black son in America. I don’t know what to say when my granddaughter looks at me with her seven-year-old eyes and asks me, Mom-Mom why did they kill that man. And I especially don’t know what to say to myself to be able to process the powerlessness, confusion, hurt, anger, fear, and disappointment I feel about a country that allows the dehumanization of black people without retribution, accountability or any real consequences of any kind, over and over again. Are we not American? Do we not deserve to be protected? W. E. B. Dubois said it best “It’s a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self though the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dog strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Denise Shandra, Lackawanna County, PA Program Director
Mr. Floyd’s unnecessary death leaves a sick feeling of fear, panic and sorrow in my stomach. The question, “Are we still here?“ daunting.
Racism must be called out the second it reveals its ugly head everywhere but especially in positions of power and serving our communities. Not being racist must be part of the job requirements…those who allow it must also go.
#Blacklivesmatter just is not enough…consequences to all who allow or show their racist stripes must become the norm and not the exception… Uniting to bring change must have a serious start at the top but does not end there. I am challenging myself to do more to push change in Mr. Floyd’s name and all before him…in my personal life, job, community and with my vote.
Barrell Morgan, YAP Fort Worth Assistant Director, Behavioral Health
These last few days have been very trying. The murder of George Floyd was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back and has revealed another layer of the social and systematic issues that exists in this country. This is a time of Civil Unrest and the effects of generational issues regarding race are exposing the opinions and feelings of everyone across the nation.
If we consider the battle cry of the unheard “No Justice, No Peace!”– it reveals that in order to obtain peace, we must receive justice. Has this happened? Will we ever obtain justice? What does Justice look like? These questions may vary from person to person but are clearly needed to be answered collectively for true change.
With this being the age of information, news spreads and is displayed on several platforms that present different perspectives. These different perspectives have been the gasoline that has accelerated the intensity of emotions from the public. If we consider basic cause and effect analysis, it reveals that the systematic and social issues regarding race and police disciplinary accountability have been the cause that has led to the Civil Unrest that we see.
In our field, we are trained to search for the cause and address, coach, and advocate to strive for progress towards change with a team approach by providing resources and supports. If our current state of racial injustice and the lack of police accountability were our clients, how would we help?
Would we attempt to justify these issues and explain how other issues that the family has are just as important? Would we criticize them by saying their frustrations and reactions are counterproductive and are contradicting their point? Would we compare their situation to other situations program participants experience to try and enlighten them on how good they have it?
As a black man I am exhausted. Being one of the few black men in my behavioral health professional circles, I find myself being asked, consulted, and sometimes unwarrantedly to educate others or to “majoritysplain” what’s going on to people who believe they know how I and others that look like me should feel or what we should or shouldn’t do. In my personal life, after experiencing this injustice frequently and hearing the stories of my friends and family that are also experiencing the same, it drains me mentally and physically. But as I’ve been raised to do, I get up every morning, put on a strong face while also presenting positivity to limit the chance for someone to see me as a threat. I come to work and suppress my feeling and emotions to ensure the job gets done for 40 to 50 hours per week.
Although I feel if someone is caught looting or rioting, they should be arrested, I also don’t judge them. How can I tell someone what they are doing is counterproductive when history shows that it’s not the case? How can I encourage peaceful protests when we’ve witnessed the backlash and the message falling on deaf ears? The purpose of a protest is to cause disruption. Also protesting is on a spectrum, from peaceful to destruction. If no one knows the answer on how to bring about immediate change, then how can we judge people trying to find one? To request peace BEFORE justice is not the unifying statement that will lead to change but only conformity. Therefore, unfortunately, destruction is the result of civil unrest and “the language of the unheard (MLK).”
To truly be united, it is no longer enough to be non-racist, only anti-racist. This would lead to it moving from a black vs. white or a black vs. police issue, but towards an Everyone vs. Racism issue. This would furthermore change the narrative from acknowledging George Floyd was killed but the rioting and looting has to stop and progressing towards acknowledging the unfortunate results from the riots and looting but the killing of black people without accountability has to stop.
In conclusion, I wanted to give prospective on the short timeline of racial oppression.
*I am 34 years old. *My Great-Great Grandmother was a Slave. *My Great Grandmother was a Sharecropper. *My Grandmother survived Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. *My Mother (60 yrs. old) survived Segregation.
Fred Fogg, YAP Northern-Metro NJ & DE Director of Operations
The challenges we have faced adjusting to the impact of COVID-19, the loss of friends and family, is bound to have an impact on wellbeing. COVID-19 alone is enough to challenge our resilience; but coupled with the 3 horrible incidents of police killings in our recent history is a lot to deal with, particularly for people of color. Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. Unfortunately, it’s part of the trauma that African Americans live with every day. No matter what the challenge is, the economy, healthcare, an epidemic — African Americans navigate these crisis carrying the trauma of institutional racism. While ensuring that my sons are doing everything during this COVID-crisis to protect their health, I still have to have the conversation about what to do if the police stop you: lower your mask immediately, put your hands on the steering wheel, don’t reach for your hand sanitizer before handing the officer your license. Comply and survive the encounter. If you feel as though you’ve been treated unfairly come home and let me deal with it formally. How many other US citizens are worried about their children surviving a conversation with a police officer?
While I don’t support the negative activity that took place during the protests, I completely understand it. Many have reached a point of frustration where they feel that quiet peaceful protest is not giving the needed attention to the issues that we are facing every day. We have had countless instances of video recordings of police killing African Americans, with few arrests of police officers involved and almost no convictions. How do we encourage our young people — ourselves — to have faith in a system that is failing us at every turn? I remember the first instances of seeing videos of police misconduct and feeling that cellphones and videos would provide clear evidence and afford justice for those wronged. Not so, there is a frightening indifference about the treatment of African Americans at the hands of police, and it cannot continue.
We must take this opportunity to listen to how our young people are feeling, support them, empower them with education on the history of civil rights, civic engagement, and advocacy; then activate them in a focused and positive manner to effect change.
Jessica Stadt, YAP National Director of Private Sector Giving
Our children are witnessing brutality, violence and blatant ignorance every day. Now is the time to stand side by side with our children and teach them better. We must teach them that the buildings on fire are not more meaningful than the bodies in the ground.
The demand is simple. Stop killing black people. Stop oppressing black people. Children are not being educated or fed in our major cities- now is the time to support organizations that stand with our black communities and provide them with direct support and needs to survive. We are not color blind. We are color conscious, awake, outraged and weeping for our black brothers and sisters.
YAP is tackling institutional racism internally with Race, Equity and Inclusion training already underway. Externally, the nonprofit is planning a virtual town hall to introduce funders to evidence-based alternatives to traditional policing. Learn more about YAP at YAPInc.org.