Project NIA: 2013 Year in Review

2013 was a very productive year for us at Project NIA and we have no doubt that 2014 will be even more so.

This year, we continued to undertake applied research that was cited and used by various stakeholders. We trained community members about prison and juvenile justice issues. We created new curricula and tools to disseminate our ideas about transformative justice. We organized conferences, art exhibitions, film screenings, and other events to build community and a base of people who are interested in dismantling the prison industrial complex. We joined with allies to advocate for policy changes and to oppose efforts to further criminalize people. We worked in our community to provide healing spaces through bodywork, peace circles, and more. Finally, we continued to incubate projects that have a direct impact on the lives of youth in conflict with the law and their families. In 2013, our work impacted thousands of people across the country.

We could not do this work without our generous supporters and donors who make it all possible. In particular, we put out two calls for grassroots fundraising support this year. You helped us to meet our goals. Thank you for supporting us in 2013 and we look forward to a terrific 2014 building on our accomplishments and learning from our challenges. Below are some highlights of our work. Please feel free to share this with others who might be interested in Project NIA.


We produced and published several reports this year. We are grateful to everyone who contributed to and used this work. Our research was cited in the media including Dnainfo Chicago, Think Progress, Rolling Stone Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Bureau, and more. We also know that the data and reports were used by our peers at other organizations and by community members to advocate for policy changes. Our Chicago Youth Justice Data Project Blog continued to provide updated information about the Illinois juvenile justice system throughout the year.

Here are the reports that we published in 2013:

1. Policing Chicago Public Schools 2 by Mariame Kaba & Eva Nagao

2. Arresting Justice (Second Edition, PDF): Juvenile Arrests 2011 & 2012 by Mariame Kaba

3. Trends in Chicago Juvenile Arrests, 2009-2012 (PDF) by Ashley Cook, Zygmunt Czykieta, Paul Mack, and Chris Skrable (with contributions by Mariame Kaba)


5. Mandatory Minimums & Guns: Opinions from Illinois by Julian Ignacio and Mariame Kaba


In addition to these reports, thanks to volunteers Eva Nagao and Jacqui Shine, we created infographics about youth incarceration in Illinois and about juvenile detention in Cook County along with a series of fact sheets about the school to prison pipeline.


Art and Other Exhibitions

Black/Inside: During February (Black History Month), the Black/Inside exhibition traveled to Trinity United Church of Christ. Hundreds of people came through to view the artifacts and engage the exhibition.

With help from our supporters, we successfully raised over $5,000 through a grassroots fundraising campaign to turn Black/Inside into a traveling exhibition. Stay tuned for details about this in 2014!

Black and Blue: From March 18 to 29, through a residency at the Pop-Up Just Art Space on Maxwell street, we organized a series of events about policing, violence, and resistance including an art exhibition, film screenings, panel discussions, and more. We were hosted by the Social Justice Institute at UIC and over 250 people participated in the events. We thank our volunteers Billy Dee (who designed the exhibition) and Eva Nagao who were indispensable to making the residency a success.

Eva created an online exhibit to document the art from this project. You can also read NIA volunteer Billy Dee’s reflections on talking about police violence with students from Bowen H.S. who contributed their art to the exhibition.

by Bianca Diaz

by Bianca Diaz

Picturing A World Without Prisons: In partnership with our friends at Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program, we curated an exhibit which brings together the visions of incarcerated youth and people on the outside. We were hosted by the HumanThread Center/Gallery from November 11 through December 6.

We want to engage the public in imagining a world without prisons with us. This project will extend into 2014 with the creation of a zine and a continuation of our discussions about imagining a world without prisons. In the meantime, we have begun to create an online exhibit that will document the project.

You can read Alicia Crowther’s reflections on submitting a photograph to the exhibition here. Below you can listen to Marie Soude discuss her submission to Picturing A World Without Prisons. Her submission is here.

Other workshops, training, and educational events

Through our various teach-ins, workshops, conferences, and discussions, we reached over 750 people in 2013.


Some of our workshops included understanding the criminalization of youth 101 and Introduction to the PIC. Teach-ins for youth and adults focused on Trayvon Martin, Assata Shakur, and Marissa Alexander. We co-organized and hosted discussions about the school to prison pipeline, transformative justice, the militarization of police, the impact of incarceration on children, violence in the lives of black girls and more.

In addition, the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective organized an 8 session summer training program for over 35 people. The training program was co-sponsored by our friends at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum. Through the program, we invited some new members to join the Collective and connected others to local anti-prison efforts in Chicago.

Curricula and Resources

This year we continued to develop curriculum and resources that we made available to the public at no cost. Our resources are now used across the world and we are always excited to hear about how they contribute to creating a more just and peaceful world. Visit the website for a listing of all of our resources.

Chain Reaction: Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling the Police is a youth-driven, multimedia project run by volunteers in Chicago from 2011-2013. The project website includes an archive of video and audio stories about young people’s encounters with police, a “how-to” on creating a youth media project in your own community, and a curriculum for workshops on what it means to not call the police in your own community.

A Different Approach to School Safety: We (with NIA volunteer & filmmaker Debbie Southorn) produced a short film documenting how one urban school in Chicago manages school safety without relying on law enforcement or harsh school disciplinary policies. We will use that film to promote the campaign and also to provide a concrete example illustrating that it is in fact possible to ensure school safety without relying on cops. This was part of our Yes to Counselors No to Cops Campaign.

A Transformative Justice Curriculum Guide: This guide offers some idea for educators, organizers, and community members who want to facilitate conversations about concepts such as intervening when harms occur, how to define justice, forgiveness, alternatives to policing, and more.

Uproar Chicago: We partnered with community members to produce an innovative audio collage capturing a particular moment in time in Chicago and illuminating community responses to violence. This resource can be used to foster conversations about the nature and impact of violence in the lives of Chicagoans.

A Youth-Friendly Reader about Trayvon Martin Case: This publication is appropriate for high school aged youth and older. It includes articles, manifestos, and a couple of poems. At the end, we offer a short list of potential activities and actions that young people can do.


We continued to organize to support juvenile justice and prison reform policies while opposing those that we believe are detrimental. This year saw the closing of two youth prisons in Illinois. We’ve been proud to join with our allies over the last few years to achieve this outcome. We continue to press for the closing of more juvenile prisons. Some of our other advocacy efforts are featured below.

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

1. Chicago Student Safety Act: After over two years of discussions with Chicago Public Schools, our coalition will have some exciting news to announce in January 2014. Stay tuned!

2. HB2265/SB1342 Mandatory Minimum Gun Bill: We spent the entire year working to oppose SB1342,a bill that would have imposed mandatory sentences for possessing an unloaded gun without a valid FOID (Firearms Owner Identification) card. A description of the latest incarnation of the bill can be found here. Read about the costs about the bill here. We oppose mandatory minimum prison sentences because they do not deter crime, are too expensive, and actually do not make our communities safer.

Recently one of our creative resistance actions against the bill was profiled in YES MAGAZINE. Here are some of the creative actions that we organized. Ultimately, SB 1342 did not get a vote this year. This is a victory but we expect that proponents of the bill will try again this Spring. We’ll be prepared to oppose it then too. Upon hearing the news that the bill would not get a vote in the December special session, we encouraged all of our supporters who helped in this campaign to take a moment to celebrate.

by Bianca Diaz

by Bianca Diaz

3. We co-organized several direct action protests in 2013. See some photographs from these actions. In particular, we responded to a federal report about high rates of sexual victimization of incarcerated youth by organizing a silent witness protest before a House committee hearing. Mariame also testified at the hearing. Some media coverage can be found here and here.

4. Yes to Counselors, No to Cops: In January 2013, we mobilized a loose coalition of individuals and organizations in Chicago to pressure our Senators (in particular) to oppose any new funding for police officers in schools and to take an affirmative position in support of more counselors and restorative justice programs. We also wanted to be proactive in asking the Chicago Public Schools to pass a resolution that would state unequivocally that any new funding received from Federal grants to improve school safety based on the President’s gun reform plan will be used to hire COUNSELORS NOT COPS. Our coalition accomplished a great deal in just a few short weeks. See what was accomplished here.

5. Finally, we supported the Juvenile Justice Initiative’s successful effort to Raise the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction in Illinois. We helped to rally community support and encouraged people to contact their elected officials and file witness slips. We also supported to effort to expand Redeploy Illinois.


NIA Wellness Program
During 2013, our Wellness Program developed the Community Healers Project. This project was set up to train community members to help themselves and others with easy-to-learn, straightforward, gentle techniques to create wellbeing and relaxation. We held our first training in July 2013 in collaboration with Rogers Park’s Family Matters organization and Sage Community Health Collective. We raised money and hired licensed acupuncturist Tanuja Jagernauth to provide an ear acupressure training for a group of six women and youth in Rogers Park. Project Nia social work intern Michelle VanNatta also provided training on active listening and guided relaxation. Members of this group returned to share their skills with other community members at two Community Share meetings held in August and October. Licensed massage therapists and bodyworkers were also recruited to volunteer their services. Project Nia networked with other community organizations that provide services to recruit participants, who came to learn relaxation skills and receive healing treatments. The intern and volunteers plan to continue offering these community events every other month during 2014. Family Matters has volunteered their space for this purpose, and volunteers have been providing snacks and supplies.

Our intern had regular counseling and psychoeducation sessions with several individual clients during 2013. She also provided a healing circle for a family member of an individual currently detained and charged with sexual abuse of minor children.

Michelle represented Project Nia with the Healing Justice Network at meetings and provided services to clients at monthly Community Care Nights. This group focuses on providing free wellness services to the community and addressing oppression in healthcare settings. They are currently working to replicate our Prison Industrial Complex Teaching Collective model as they build a teaching network around health justice issues.

Circles and Ciphers: We’ve incubated and supported this hip hop leadership development program for youth in conflict with the law since its inception. In the video below, program co-founder Ethan Ucker explains Circles’s work and impact. In 2013, Circles and Ciphers worked with several dozen young people in school, detention, and community settings.

restoring hope from Leah Varjacques on Vimeo.

Families in Touch: After 2.5 years of coordinating Families in Touch, Tobin Shelton has moved out of state and turned over leadership to another volunteer Maggie Mui. We are so very grateful to Tobin for all of his efforts to launch and then sustain the program. He was an intern at Project NIA when he developed Families in Touch. Maggie has been a volunteer giving rides to families who need to visit their children at Warrenville Youth prison. We thank her for stepping up to lead the program.

Chicago Girl Talk: Girl Talk, a volunteer-led and run program, continues to work with girls and young women who are incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Girl Talk will be undergoing some changes in 2014. Check the site for future updates.


Special thanks to the following people who contributed greatly to our work in 2013.

Kyla Bourne, Scout Bratt (Girl Talk), Lisa Dadabo (PIC Collective), Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz (Intern), Jessica Estrada (Girl Talk), Claudia Rojas-Garcia, Jane Hereth (PIC Collective), Carrie Kauffman (PIC Collective), Hope Lassen (Girl Talk), A.D. (Sean) Lewis, Deana Lewis (Girl Talk), Sarah Lu, Kayla Martensen (Girl Talk), Page May, Erica Meiners (PIC Collective), Maggie Mui (Families in Touch), Eva Nagao, Olivia Perlow (PIC Collective), Charlotte Pope, Yolanda Roldan (Girl Talk), Chez Rumpf (PIC Collective), Jacqui Shine, Ashlee Stephens (Girl Talk), Debbie Southorn, Michelle VanNatta (Intern), Haley Volpintesta, Lewis Wallace (Chain Reaction/PIC Collective), Emily Williams (Girl Talk), Ann Wooten (PIC Collective).

Key Supporters
Kristen Atkinson, Lori Baptista, Micah Bazant, Lara Brooks, Tawanna Brown, Alice Cottingham, Isis Ferguson, Sharlyn Grace, Shira Hassan, Lisa Junkin, Jake Klippenstein, Lisa Lee, Tracye Matthews, Owen-Daniel McCarter, Kristin Millikan, Nancy Michaels, Sarah Jane Rhee, Barbara Ransby, Beth Richie, Ann Russo, Traci Schlesinger, Teresa Silva, Brad Thompson, Rick Uttich. Lewis Wallace

Collaborating Organizations & Institutions
African American Cultural Center at UIC, American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, Black & Pink Chicago, Black Youth Project 100 (Chicago Chapter), Broadway Youth Center, Building Bridges Ending Violence, Chicago Alliance against Racist & Political Repression, Chicago Childcare Collective, Chicago Freedom School, The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, Children and Family Justice Center, COFI/POWER-PAC, Community Justice for Youth Institute, Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), Dignity in Schools Campaign, Family Matters, First Defense Legal Aid, Free Marissa NOW Mobilization Campaign, Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program, Gender Just, Haymarket Books, HumanThread Center/Gallery, Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, IYC-Warrenville, Jane Addams Hull House Museum, Juvenile Justice Initiative, Juvenile Justice Support Network (JJSN), John Howard Association, Lawndale Amachi Mentorship Program (LAMP), Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation (Roosevelt University), National Lawyers Guild (Chicago), New Life Centers of Chicagoland (Urban Life Skills Program), Occupy Rogers Park, Overpass Light Brigade (Chicago), People’s Law Office, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, Sage Community Health Collective, Social Justice Initiative of UIC, Teachers for Social Justice, Trinity United Church of Christ, Truthout, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), Woman of God’s Design Ministries, Women’s All Points Bulletin, Women & Gender Studies Program (Depaul University), Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Youth Service Project.

(2013 list of individual donors will be listed on our website)
Afterschool Matters
Crossroads Fund
Cook County
MSS Social Justice Award
Woods Fund of Chicago


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