Real Reform Means that I Can Tell My 8 Year Old Daughter Miracle that She Doesn’t Have to be Afraid Anymore of Walking While Black
by Shanequa Charles, #LwC2018
May 3, 2018
As a resident of the Bronx and a longtime community activist, I’m all too familiar with the misery caused by our broken criminal injustice system. When I became a member of JLUSA what I decided to do was invest that time to build relationships with other advocates and explore and understand the world that usually punishes our kids. I wanted to use my 18 years of experience as a mental health provider and a chemical dependency therapist to help build a team that could stand the test of time and support the leadership of directly impacted people.
My daughter and I have been going back and forth to Albany for months, making legislative visits and holding speak-outs and press conferences for the #FREEnewyork campaign. We are demanding real bail reform, real discovery reform, and real speedy trial reform. Real reform means that I can tell my 8 year old daughter Miracle that she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore of “walking while black.” Even though Miracle is only 8, she is actively involved in the campaign. In March on Lobby Day we took over 200 people to Albany and I was asked to MC the press conference. I’ve been around press conferences for many years and what was so different about this one was that the legislators who were there were so visibly moved by what they heard. Usually these guys, even if they believe in what you’re talking about, will tell you on the side, “I really agree with you, but I can’t say it publicly.” But this time the energy and spirit that filled the space was awe inspiring. Directly impacted people spoke out with vigor and confidence on camera about how they truly felt and the legislators publicly committed to fighting for and with us.
The other hat I wear is as the founder and Executive Director of a new not-for-profit organization called Miss Abbie’s Kids Inc. Miss Abbie is my mother. She turned her struggle with various health problems into an opportunity to teach people how to live healthier lives. She died five years ago. Miss Abbie’s Kids is a youth development organization with three main programs: Seven Stars is an anti-recidivism program for boys between the ages of 13 and 21; Miss Abbie’s Girls is a leadership development program for girls that teaches assertiveness, entrepreneurship, and social etiquette; and Off da Block takes children between 6 to 13 and exposes them to activities not normally found in inner city neighborhoods, like horseback riding, camping, gymnastics, and skiing. Every year we hold Miss Abbie’s Halloween Extravaganza Health/Wellness Fair & Block Event where we marry health and Halloween and educate the community on how to avoid chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. We offer many community resources that day from free blood pressure screenings, HIV testing, insurance sign up combined with fun to restore community solidarity. On this day for the last five years there have been no incidents of crime reported in our local precinct and we have managed to become a self-regulated community that does not need the police to “keep peace.”
JLUSA’s Leading with Conviction training compares to nothing I’ve ever been a part of. The bar has been raised so high regarding everything from thoughtfulness to logistics to how to monitor impact. The model is outstanding thanks to the founder, Glenn Martin, who took the time to really understand that the people who are most impacted should be the ones to receive a significant investment in building their leadership capacity. LwC is absolutely genius! I always wonder if my own mom had been given treatment and second chances instead of jail trips, how her life would have turned out. Leading with Conviction TEACHES me everything I need to make serious changes for millions of others.