Month: May 2015

Young Leaders for Justice: An Update

March 28, 2015

March 28, 2015

On February 14th, a group of young people gathered at the Chicago Freedom School (CFS) to participate in the inaugural session of the Young Leaders For Justice (YLJ) program. YLJ is the result of a collaboration between CFS and us at Project NIA.

We conceived of this program as an opportunity to support young people ages 17 to 24 to develop their knowledge about criminalization and to learn new organizing skills. Over the past 8 sessions spanning 4 months, participants have learned about the dynamics and nature of the prison industrial complex, oppressive policing, the juvenile justice system, healing justice, using social media as a tool for organizing, and more. In the final couple of sessions, participants will learn about strategies for grassroots fundraising and will participate in a walking tour of Chicago. YLJ participant Dan reflects on what he’s learned so far:

“Throughout this program, I have learned so much about living in America in 2015. I’ve had a chance to talk with so many wonderful people who have ideas that will positively impact the world. We’ve discussed the school to prison pipeline, prison industrial complex and so many concepts that have restricted the freedom and movement of black and brown bodies. I decided to apply for this program so I could better understand how this world works. I have received more than I thought possible through this program. What I’ve learned in these sessions will carry with me for the rest of my life. We were never meant to survive, so we must act and build to remember.”


This program is also born of a need for more spaces in Chicago for young people to engage in collective political education. A couple of YLJ participants commented on this in a reflection about the program. Latia highlights the importance of being able to develop critical consciousness for action:

“Being a part of this program has allowed me to critically think about and analyze the history of policing and mass incarceration. In this space, we are able to ask questions and look at the prison culture in ways that are impactful. We are able to talk about the world in ways that can create change. It is great to be around like-minded, passionate people that are eager to create a new way of living. I have learned so much from each individual and I am eager to put all of our discussions and lessons into action. The question of imagining a world without prisons is one that we should all think about!”

Hugo stresses coming to consciousness about state violence through his participation in the program:

“We have been problematizing the idea of prisons, capitalism, police and other tentacles of the State. It has been a radical experience to be part of a group where everyone is open-minded and transparent. If there were more places and opportunities like CFS/YLJ, the world would be a better and revolutionary place.”

May 16, 2015

May 16, 2015

The YLJ program is rooted in a philosophy that activism is a life-long pursuit so it’s therefore important that it be infused with an ethic of care (including self-care). Some participants shared their reflections about the impact of this program on their identities and selves. Josephine spoke to the effects of YLJ on her personal development as an activist and human being:

“The YLJ workshops have been crucial to me as an activist and as a person living in Chicago. It has made the city and the history of its people, particularly black people, very intimate to my own sense of self and convictions on justice. The workshops not only teach us how to be more efficient, erudite activists of color, but teach us how to take care of ourselves, how to take up space, how to “be okay” in our bodies. The workshops have been holistic and healing and I always leave feeling full with a knowing that I am learning and becoming the kind of human being I need to be.”

YLJ has helped participants to see their worlds with new eyes. This has been a recurring theme throughout the sessions. Makiah, a high school senior, describes an awakening over the past few weeks:

“I’m learning to think critically about the patterns I see every day. You notice instances where cops are present. You, as a POC, know that you are targeted unjustly. But this program really gives you insight. We can all sit down and have conversation. We leave knowing, okay, this is what is going on. And this is why. And then we all go back to our own communities making all these new connections. We all have these suspicions about what it happening but we get them validated in this program. Now we’re in a phase of learning, ‘what now? what do I need to do’.”

2015 YLJ1

Lynda speaks to incremental changes in her perspective as she’s learned more about criminalization through YLJ:

“I notice the impact of my experience with YLJ in small ways. I have slowly developed a more critical lens when it comes to police in our communities. When my neighborhood association printed posters with the words ‘we call the police. We report all suspicious activities to the police,” I viewed it as a narrow-minded approach to safety. While we live in a police-centered world, we can’t rely on them to keep us safe. I still don’t have the answers but at least I now question more deeply.”

At the end of the 10 sessions of political education (end of June), some YLJ participants will execute action projects over the summer. We are excited to see how they apply the knowledge that they have gained through tangible projects. Stay tuned for future updates this summer!

We have cobbled together resources to run YLJ over the past few months. We received no significant foundation funding and have relied almost entirely on individual financial and in kind donations to make the program happen. We at Project NIA have volunteered our time to plan and co-facilitate this program because we are committed to youth leadership development. However, there are program costs that we have incurred including food and stipends for participants. We are still fundraising to support our work. If you are able and feel moved, please make a donation HERE today. All donations are tax-deductible to full extent of the law.


City Council Makes History In Passing Reparations Legislation For Burge Torture Survivors!

image by Monica Trinidad

image by Monica Trinidad

Chicago, IL – This morning Chicago Police torture survivors and their family members attended a Chicago City Council hearing to witness passage of historic legislation providing reparations for the torture they and scores of other African American men and women survived at the hands of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command. Some of the torture survivors and family members traveled from out of the City and State to attend the hearing.

The reparations package is the product of decades of organizing, litigation, and investigative journalism, and represents the culmination of an inspiring intergenerational and interracial campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International, USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, re-invigorated by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Forty-six organizations endorsed the ordinance, the U.N. Committee Against Torture specifically called on the U.S. Government to support the passage of the legislation and scores of Chicagoans attended demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins and a Citywide Teach-ins over the last six months to urge Mayor Emanuel to support the reparations ordinance.

“Over the course of the past 6 months, a coalition of individuals and groups organized tirelessly to achieve this goal. Today’s historic achievement, passage of the reparations ordinance, is owed to the decades of organizing to bring some justice to the survivors of Burge and his fellow officers’ unconscionable torture. We have successfully organized to preserve the public memory of the atrocities experienced by over 110 black people at the hands of Chicago police torture because we refuse to let anyone in this city ever forget what happened here,” said Mariame Kaba, founder and executive director of Project NIA.

The reparations resolution represents the first time Chicago’s City Council has formally acknowledged and taken responsibility for the police torture that occurred in Chicago, and recognized its obligation to provide concrete redress to the survivors and family members. In addition to the establishment of a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims, the City will provide survivors and their families specialized counseling services at a center on the South side, free enrollment in City Colleges, and priority access to job training, housing and other city services. Additionally, a history lesson about the Burge torture cases will henceforth be taught in Chicago Public schools and a permanent public memorial will be erected to commemorate the torture and survivors.

“It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated law enforcement officials,” said Joey Mogul, a co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, partner at the People’s Law Office and drafter of the original reparations ordinance. “This holistic model should serve as a blueprint for how cities around the country, from Ferguson to Baltimore, can respond to systemic racist police brutality.”

The final legislation was the product of an agreement reached with Mayor Emanuel, CTJM and Amnesty International, USA on the eve of an April 14, 2015 hearing on the original reparations Ordinance introduced into City Council by Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward) in October of 2013.

While torture survivors, family members, and activists were pleased with the reparations package passed today, they noted that much more work needs to be done to address racially motivated police violence in the City of Chicago.

“Today is an important and historic day, and the result of a courageous, decades-long effort to seek justice. But this is not the end. We must make sure that this curriculum places torture under Burge in a broader context of ongoing and endemic police violence. We must expand counseling and treatment services so they’re available for all survivors of police violence. And more broadly, we must fight for an end not only to these horrific acts of torture, and police shootings of Black youth, but also against the daily police harassment and profiling of young people of color in Chicago and across the country,” said Page May, an organizer and activist with We Charge Genocide.

The Reparations Ordinance was drafted to provide redress to approximately 120 African American men and women subjected to racially-motivated torture, including electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by now former Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates from 1972 through 1991. Although Burge was convicted on federal charges for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the torture cases in 2010, he continues to draw a taxpayer funded pension.

Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance Passes Out of the Finance Committee!

Today, the Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance unanimously passed out of the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee.

On the eve of a hearing on the Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance (April 14), Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) and Amnesty International – USA reached an agreement on a reparations package with Mayor Emanuel and his administration. The legislation is historic and will be the first time a City in the U.S. has provided reparations to victims of racially motivated police violence. If passed, the legislation will provide concrete redress to the torture survivors and their family members, including a formal apology; specialized counseling services; free enrollment in City Colleges; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools; a permanent public memorial to the survivors; and it sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims.

The legislation comes after an impressive grassroots campaign co-led by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Amnesty International – USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide.

Tomorrow, on May 6th, the full Chicago City Council will vote on this historic legislation that will provide reparations to the Burge Torture Survivors and family members. The largest gathering of Burge Torture survivors and family members will assemble to watch the City Council vote on the legislation.


Join us at 10 am at City Hall for the vote!

For those who cannot make the meeting, we will gather at Chicago Temple for a celebration lunch after the vote. We anticipate being there around noon. All are invited to join us at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, James Parlor Room, 2nd Floor after the City Council Vote.