The event began with Reverend Kaji S. Douša, senior pastor at Park Avenue Christian Church, who oriented the audience with the Liberationist perspective of the church.
She acknowledged that the church is built on stolen land, the story of migration that every person represents and the liberated formerly incarcerated souls in the space.
Reverend Douša also spoke about the need to listen to and support people like Cyntoia Brown, as well as take action against a system that allows Brown to be incarcerated for life at 16-years-old.
Before the main event showcasing a conversation between Carmen Perez-Jordan, President and CEO of The Gathering for Justice and Cyntoia Brown, Luis Hernandez explained the history of Gathering for Justice and the ongoing activism in the fight against oppression. The audience then listened to spoken word poetry from the mouths of the youth.
Camryn Brown, New York City’s Youth Poet Laureate gave a performance on the neglectful school system and death of young black boys at the hands of police. While Matthew Sanchez, Urban Word NYC youth poet took the audience on a historical journey in oppression and racism.
Sanchez then asked the audience to look up William H. West one of the first white owners of a minstrel troupe composed of black performers in the United States. Sanchez emphasizes the importance of representation in media within the racist structures of our society.
Inspiring words from Free Cyntoia
The following segment was titled “The Voices of Cyntoia” and featured six women reading excerpts from Brown’s new book. The women were activists from the community.
Tamika Mallory of Until Freedom; Leyla Martinez of the Beyond the Box Initiative; Vanee Sykes of Ladies of Hope Ministries; Jamila T. Davis, an author and activist; Andrea Gonzales of Youth Over Guns; and Aaliyah Guillory-Nickens, a youth activist.
The conversation of criminal Justice for young people and girls
The main event was an extended conversation between Carmen Perez-Jordan and Cyntoia Brown Long about Brown’s release, her journey and the reason behind writing the book.
Cyntoia expressed the urgency to help youths that are in danger of becoming incarcerated and of girls in danger of sex trafficking.
She pointed to better resources and a change in culture at schools to lower the number of juvenile prisoners and to improve their chances at life.
Carmen emphasized the difficulties of navigating the juvenile justice system for children and their parents. She called for “wrap around” services for the children and their families.
She also called for the removal of all “zero-tolerance policies.”
“So often we put young people in court and then we expect them to navigate the justice system but that’s in a whole different language and then we put parents there.”
Where are the resources?
Brown also pointed to the lack of behavioral psychologists and child psychology professionals available as one of the main reasons for child juvenile incarcerations.
She stated that those working with children as well as the larger public should be equipped with some behavioral health specialist skills to offer support to vulnerable children.
“We should all be behavioral health specialists to some degree. We should all help them not just learn math and English but help them to grow emotionally and mentally and learn to navigate all those things…”
“That’s a big part of who they are, that’s developing during that time, and it’s just as important as arithmetic.”
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Brown recalled the first time she felt the injustices of society towards her at 12-years-old. Back then she was banned from all public schools for bringing a box of caffeine pills to school under a “zero-tolerance policy” for drugs.
The banning required her to go to an alternative school away from home which six months later led to her first charge where the three other white children who were arrested with her were not charged.
“I just really started thinking, wow this doesn’t seem fair. And no one wanted to listen to me.”
What can we as a community do?
Cyntoia entrusted the community members to look out for young people and children, to protect them from predators and every day inappropriate situations.
“We’ll see a situation like that and we’re kind of just like ‘well that’s none of my business.’ But that is your business. That’s a young person, that’s a child and we all need to take responsibility for young people”
Cyntoia Brown-Long concluded the evening by signing books after the interview. Her husband and faithful support Jaime Long hovered over her protectively as she spoke to attendees.
Her more intimate words just as inspiring has her quotable interviews.
“I think a lot of times we get in each others business for the wrong things, but when it comes to the times when we should be getting in each others business we don’t say anything.
If you’d like to watch the entirety of the conversation peep the link here.