Project NIA: 2014 Year in Review

In 2014, we at Project NIA continued our efforts to end youth incarceration and to support young people in conflict with the law. We taught hundreds of people through workshops, we wrote reports that reached thousands, we organized direct actions to garner the attention of those in power, we produced curricula that were used to teach thousands, we curated an exhibition that reached hundreds of people, we advocated for policies that will impact thousands across the state and we also collaborated with dozens of partners along the way. Below are some of the highlights of 2014.

We are so grateful to everyone who has and continues to support our work. In 2014, we had hundreds of small donors along with grants from a few Foundations who believe in what we do. We cannot survive without your ongoing support. We have big plans for 2015 and we hope that you will join as we continue to work towards the abolition of the prison industrial complex.

2014 was a year of transition and change for us at Project NIA. In February, we said goodbye to Circles and Ciphers, a project that we helped catalyze and incubated for 4 years. Circles has grown into an independent project and it continues to do inspiring and important work with young people across Chicago. Please support their critical work in the coming months and years. We are proud of all they have and continue to accomplish.

Happy New Year! May 2015 bring us more justice and some peace.

Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

In February 2014, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released school discipline data broken out by various demographic categories for the first time on their website. This was due in part to our advocacy efforts through the Chicago Student Safety Act Coalition which we convened. The coalition included several allies from across the city. The most recent 2013-14 school discipline data was released by CPS in December.

In April, in collaboration with CPS, we organized and co-hosted a forum on school discipline to gather community input for changes to the CPS discipline code. CPS released a revised discipline policy in June. We continue to offer our input on school discipline policy through the Chicago Collaborative for Supportive School Discipline convened by CPS.

Also, in April, we organized and facilitated a free workshop titled “Understanding the School-to-Prison Pipeline 101” attended by over 40 educators, parents and community members.

In May, we convened and co-organized a Locked Up and Locked Out march and rally as part of the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth. The march and rally were attended by hundreds of youth and adults from across Chicago. For details about this action, you can read here and see more photos here.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

As part of our ongoing commitment to make data and research accessible to our communities, we developed several fact sheets about CPS suspensions and expulsions in 2014. We also shared data fact sheets from others including the Mayor’s office.

In 2014, the advocacy and organizing of Project NIA and other local groups, including COFIVOYCE, and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law (CLC), achieved major victories in the fight to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. In October, we released a white paper written by Dr. Michelle VanNatta that documented the gains and as well as some ongoing challenges in creating positive futures for Chicago’s children. The paper can be accessed here.

For the third time in five years, we participated in the Dignity in Schools Campaign’s National Week of Action Against School Pushout (October 4-11). On October 8, with financial support from DSC, we organized an event called Pushed Out: An Interactive Youth-Led Experience of the School to Prison Pipeline in collaboration with Free Street Theater. It was a sold out event with  a performance by Kuumba Lynx and culminated in a light action by the Chicago Light Brigade (photo below).


Visit our School-to-Prison Tumblr for more information about our week of action efforts, quizzes to test your knowledge of the STPP and other related information.

Addressing Police Violence

Our supporters know that we have spent the better part of the past three years addressing various aspects of policing, violence and resistance. In 2014 with the Ferguson Uprisings, our resources were in high demand. Mariame also offered a #FergusonSyllabus that was accessed, viewed, and used by thousands of people across the country. She also wrote and co-authored several relevant articles and essays on these issues.

In 2014, Project NIA partnered with several other projects & organizations (including We Charge Genocide, the Chicago Light Brigade, BYP 100, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials among others) to organize direct actions against police violence and to call for reparations for Chicago police torture survivors.. We also traveled to St. Louis as part of the Ferguson Weekend of Resistance on October 12.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/24/14 protest)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/24/14 protest)

We also shared our knowledge about policing, violence and resistance by offering workshops in 2014. We offered a workshop at the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair titled “Talking With Youth About the Police: Activities & Resources.” We organized and facilitated “Policing, Violence, Resistance and Alternatives.” Finally, we co-organized “No Selves to Defend, No Rights to Respect: Blackness, Violence, and Self-Defense.”

Re-Imagining & Re-Thinking Community Safety: An Ongoing Exploration

chiraqpubWhen Temporary Services invited us to collaborate with them to create a publication as part of an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute titled “A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action,” we jumped at the opportunity.  We distributed a call for submissions inviting Chicagoans of all ages to send in words, images or audio considerations of their Chiraq meaning(s). You can hear some of the audio submissions here.

In late August, we organized an event titled “Rethinking and Reimagining Community Safety: An Intergenerational and Interactive Discussion” at the Hull House Museum. We had an overflow crowd and engaged in activities such as yoga, art and more. This event officially kicked off a year-long exploration of the concept of “Chiraq” and community safety.

The results are a wonderful publication titled Chiraq and Its Meaning(s). This publication is a cacophony of voices and doesn’t provide answers or a single definition of the meaning(s) of violence and safety in Chicago. Instead, it is an invitation for others, for you, to add your ideas and thoughts to the larger conversations that we are having in this city in our local communities, workplaces, and families. The publication includes a curriculum unit and a beautiful foldout poster by artist Mauricio Pineda.

Chiraq by Mauricio Pineda

Chiraq by Mauricio Pineda

If you live in Chicago, you can continue to add your voice by submitting your own thoughts and ideas about the meaning(s) of Chiraq. Email us at and we will post your responses at the meaning(s) of Chiraq tumblr. In the meantime, you can order a copy of the publication for $5 here or you can download a low resolution version for free HERE (PDF).

We co-organized an intergenerational event to release the publication on October 30th at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries. Over 150 people listened to poetry, watched films, and heard readings by young people from across Chicago.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/30/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/30/14)

In 2015, we will consider with others the differences between security and safety. We will continue to explore the material and psychological consequences of using such terms like “Chiraq” or “Terror Town” to describe communities and lived experiences. We will continue to engage more conversations about violence in all of its forms.

No Selves to Defend: An Exhibition

nstd final final copy-page-0We organized and co-curated an exhibition titled “No Selves to Defend” this summer. ‘No Selves to Defend’ features the stories of women of color who have been criminalized for self-defense. The exhibition examines the contested meanings and historical and contemporary understandings of self-defense. It seeks to locate Marissa Alexander’s story within a broader historical context and legacy. The exhibition also addresses the campaigns and mobilizations that emerged to resist their criminalization and demand their freedom. Finally, it considers how we can support current survivors of violence who have been criminalized for self-defense.

The exhibition opened in July and closed in late September. It was extremely well-received and visited by hundreds of people from across the city and beyond. You can learn more about the background and intent of the exhibition by reading this article.

No Selves Opening Reception (7/18/14)

No Selves Opening Reception (7/18/14)

Our friend, Gretchen Hasse, generously filmed Mariame narrating the exhibition in the video below:

“No Selves” will travel to Philadelphia in February. To see the art and to read one of the publications created for the exhibition, click here.

Advocacy, Data and Research

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Locked Up & Locked Out, 5/19/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Locked Up & Locked Out, 5/19/14)

During this legislative session, we at Project NIA, supported some bills that passed while others stalled in the legislature. We also actively opposed one particular bill that stalled in the Senate. Details are here.

In April 2014, we released a new report that provides an overview of juvenile justice in Illinois. This is not a research report but is intended to offer a brief primer for those who want to better understand how many young people across the state come to the attention of the criminal punishment system. We thank the Steans Family Foundation which provided funds for the design of the report.

In May 2014, we released an updated version of our “Conscious Chicagoan’s Guide to Youth Detention and Incarceration” that includes data mostly from 2012 & 2013. The data cover both the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) as well as the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

A Sample of Other Events

Lessons in Self Defense Poster FINALDuring 2014, we co-sponsored and/or organized many other events. Below are a few of those workshops, film screenings and more.

10/16 – Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence and Anti-Racist Feminisms in the 1970s & 80s

7/27 — Film Screening and Discussion – 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story

5/10 – Introduction to the Prison Industrial Complex

4/27 – Tulia, Texas Screening and Discussion

3/22 — Workshop: Teaching About the PIC and the Criminal Legal System

2/14 – Criminalizing Black Girls: A Workshop

Finally, none of what we shared above would be possible without our partners in this work. We won’t list all of the names because we are sure to leave some out by mistake. What’s important to say is that we value the opportunities that we have to collaborate with groups and individuals across the country. Once again, thank you so much for making 2014 a successful year in so many ways. We can’t wait to partner with you this year!


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