Project NIA: A Year in Review 2012

by Richard Ross for Juvenile-in-Justice

by Richard Ross for Juvenile-in-Justice

Project NIA is a small grassroots organization focused on supporting youth in conflict with the law and on ending youth incarceration. We are small but thanks to the support of amazing volunteers and contributors we’ve had significant local and national impact. As we near the end of 2012, we wanted to take a moment to thank all of our supporters and also to recap some of the significant work that we accomplished with your help in 2012. Below are some highlights of this year’s projects and work. Taken together, Project NIA has reached thousands of people, raised awareness, shifted consciousness, and impacted policy. We could not do it without you. Happy Holidays and we look forward to a terrific 2013!


Black/Inside: A History of Captivity and Confinement

Project NIA partnered with the African American Cultural Center at UIC to organize and curate a unique exhibition titled Black/Inside. The exhibition was co-curated and co-organized with NIA volunteers Teresa Silva and Billy Dee. Hundreds of people have visited Black/Inside since its opening on October 22nd. The exhibition runs at AACC until December 21st.

The Chicago PIC Teaching Collective

Project NIA incubates and convenes the Chicago Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) Teaching Collective. All members of the Collective are volunteers and together we offered workshops and participated in events across the country. The PIC Collective reached over 350 people through our workshops and events in 2012. We impacted many hundreds more through our free curricula and other resources.

Project NIA and the PIC Collective engaged with our allies and community members this March and April to organize against the Crete Detention Center. NIA planned and sponsored a series of events including an art exhibition that was coordinated by one of our high school interns Hannah Sparagana. The art exhibition addressed the intersections between mass detention of immigrants and the PIC. There was also a film screening and a conversation between anti-prison and immigration activists that took place at Mess Hall in March 2012. You can find relevant resources for exploring the links between mass detention & the PIC here.

We are proud to have played a small role in the successful campaign to prevent the town of Crete from building a private detention center for immigrants.

Curriculum Development

by Rachel Williams

by Rachel Williams

In 2010, we released Something is Wrong which is a curriculum guide that was spearheaded by NIA founder and director, Mariame Kaba. Something is Wrong is a unique curriculum guide to help young people develop critical thinking skills and socio-political consciousness about the root causes of violence. It has been downloaded hundreds of times by educators, organizers, and community members across the U.S. We followed by releasing Giving Name to the Nameless in 2011 which has also been downloaded and distributed to hundreds of people across the U.S.

In 2012, Project NIA released a new curriculum resource titled Black & Blue:History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence, and Resistance” in response to numerous requests from our allies for ideas about how to talk with young people about the police. We released the resource at an event at UIC attended by over 55 people. The curriculum resource includes an activity guide, a poetry guide, and a set of zines focused on historical moments of police violence and resistance. We have received very positive reviews of the resources.

Project NIA provides all of our curricula at no cost. All of our resources can be found on a new site called the PIC IS that we launched this summer.

Juvenile Justice Workshops and Events

In 2012, Project NIA continued to offer a series of workshops and events intended to educate community members and stakeholders about the juvenile justice system. We offered two workshops focused on “Understanding the Illinois Juvenile Justice System” in February at Roosevelt University and in June at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum. Over 70 people attended these trainings.

In April 2012, Mariame piloted a workshop about Understanding the Criminalization of Chicago Youth at the Chicago Freedom School. There were 15 participants. The workshop was offered again in December 2012 at Roosevelt University with 30 participants.

In August 2012, Project NIA partnered with Building Communities, Ending Violence, Depaul University & the Community Justice for Youth Institute to organize a day long event about restorative and transformative justice in Chicago. More than 125 people attended on August 17 and about a dozen people attended a follow up meeting at UIC in late September. Project NIA created an informational site for participants & a video (see below) was produced by Gretchen Hasse featuring thoughts and ideas by event attendees.

In Fall 2012, NIA partnered with the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation at Roosevelt University to organize a discussion series about juvenile justice in conjunction with Richard Ross’s photography exhibit Juvenile-In-Justice. These six conversations addressed topics such as alternatives to incarceration for youth, policing, challenges of youth with disabilities in the justice system, juvenile re-entry, and more. Hundreds of people attended the discussion series.


An important part of Project NIA’s work is focused on developing youth leadership around juvenile justice issues in Chicago. Our definition of youth extends from 13 to 26 years old. This encompasses young people in middle-school and beyond college-aged. In 2012, we had several high school and college-aged interns and volunteers who contributed to our efforts. These young people organized events, developed & facilitated workshops, created films and much more. We also work directly with youth most impacted by the juvenile justice system through programs that we incubate such as Girl Talk and Circles & Ciphers.

Circles & Ciphers
We are proud to incubate and house a terrific hip hop leadership development for prison and gang-involved young men.
1. The young men at Circles & Ciphers have developed facilitated “Know Your Rights” workshops as part of Northwestern University’s Children & Family Justice Center.
2. Members of Circles & Ciphers created an excellent rap song titled Street Law Commandments as a tool to educate their peers about their rights.
3. In a partnership with the Free Write Jail Arts Program, members of Circles and Ciphers create and produce their own music and spoken word.
4. Members of Circles and Ciphers are trained in peacemaking circle keeping and have facilitated trainings and presentations with youth and adults across Chicago.
5. Some youth traveled in October to participate in the Community Justice Network for Youth’s midwest gathering. They were able to connect with youth leaders from across the country who are addressing juvenile justice issues in their communities.
6. Finally, members of Circles have been running community-based inter-generational book clubs at the United Church of Rogers Park.

No Place for Kids
Two high school seniors from Francis Parker School interned with us this academic year. Keely Mullen and Nina Friend produced a terrific film called “No Place for Kids.” They also developed an accompanying website. The young women premiered the completed film at an event that they organized in June 2012. The film has been screened in other venues since its release. It is a terrific advocacy and educational resource.

Locked Up & Locked Out: A Youth-Led Teach-In about Youth Justice
Several high school interns partnered with our college intern Caelyn Randall to organize a successful day long event called “Locked Up and Locked Out.” The day featured youth-led workshops about various juvenile justice topics at Columbia College in April 2012. It was attended by over 85 youth and adults.

Chicago Girl Talk
The wonderful members of the Girl Talk leadership team along with the great volunteers spent another year at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center running a bi-weekly film and art program for the girls at the jail. Girl Talk is planning its annual self-care and spa days for incarcerated girls later this month. In 2013, Girl Talk will be undergoing some exciting changes. More information to come…


Research and documentation are important components of our work. In 2012, we released two new reports and completed an ambitious participatory action research project. Click on the links below for more information about these.

1. Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling the Police is a participatory action research project. The video below explains the purpose and goals of the project.

2. Policing Chicago Public Schools is a report that was released in January 2012 written and researched by Mariame Kaba and Frank Edwards. It exposed for the first time in seven years the scope of school-based arrests in Chicago Public Schools.

3. In March 2012, Project NIA released our most recent neighborhood-specific juvenile justice data snapshot for Rogers Park.


1. For the past few years, Project NIA has been advocating for closing several youth prisons in Illinois. Our Closing IL Youth Prisons Campaign officially kicked off in 2011. In 2012, we continued our community education and also mobilized our supporters to lobby their elected officials and the Governor to close prisons. Just this month, it appears that Governor Quinn will be able to successfully close (PDF) two youth prisons (IYC-Murphysboro & Joliet). We are thrilled about this victory and we expect to press for more closures in the upcoming years.

2. Project NIA along with several other organization including VOYCE, POWER-PAC, COFI, the Chicago Freedom School, Teachers for Social Justice, First Defense Legal Aid, Blocks Together, the Youth Service Project and more are advocating for the passage of the Chicago Student Safety Act.

3. Through the UNMARKED Campaign, Project NIA and our allies worked very hard again in 2012 to pass legislation to reform the juvenile expungement system in Illinois. Unfortunately, our bill stalled in committee.

4. As members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Project NIA is proud to lend our voice to efforts to combat the school-to-prison pipeline in Illinois. This December, we submitted testimony to the first ever Congressional Hearing about the pipeline organized by Senator Dick Durbin on December 12, 2012.


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