Art for Social Change

Project NIA: 2016 Year in Review

2016 was a year of transitions for us. Our founder and director Mariame Kaba moved back to her hometown of NYC after over 20 years of living and organizing Chicago. Most of the projects that we helped to catalyze and incubate over the years are now their own independent groups. Please continue to support and keep up with information about Circles and Ciphers and Liberation Library. You can also find most of the resources that we’ve developed over the years here.

In 2016, we continued our advocacy, organizing and political education in service of our goal to end youth incarceration. Below please find some highlights of our 2016 work.

1. Bye Anita: A Campaign to Defeat Anita Alvarez
We helped to develop popular education materials, provided intellectual scaffolding and mobilized our communities through digital and community organizing to help defeat former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the Democratic primary in March 2017. We also collaborated with our friend Tom Callahan to create a video documenting part of the #ByeAnita campaign this fall.

2. #ShutDownChi Solidarity Action: Close Youth Prisons
In solidarity with the Chicago Teachers’ Union, on April 1st, we joined tens of thousands of Chicagoans to stand up to Rahm Emanuel, Governor Rauner and their cohort of corporate conspirators who are working to protect the rich while implementing massive cuts intent on destroying our communities, disproportionately impacting black and brown lives. We organized a rally at the IYC-Chicago youth prison to underscore that one of the ways that we can secure more funding for the things that matter most is to CLOSE YOUTH PRISONS across Illinois. The action was co-sponsored with Assata’s Daughters, Black Lives Matter – Chicago, Brown People for Black Power, Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Young Women and Girls, Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites, For the People Artists Collective, Kuumba Lynx, and Lifted Voices.

Our co-strugglers at Kuumba Lynx beautifully documented the rally and action in a video.

The action was also lovingly documented by movement photographer Sarah Jane Rhee.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/1/16)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/1/16)

3. Restorative Questions Poster Project
We invited artists to contribute beautiful posters based on a set of restorative questions. Over a dozen submissions were then made available to everyone for free downloading. As Paul Kuttner wrote about the project:

“The posters, and the questions they pose, are deceptively simple. However, if we were to truly use these questions as our starting point to address crime, violence, and conflict, we would find ourselves veering far from the punitive path. To ask someone who has been harmed, “What is needed to make things right?” is to privilege healing over retribution. To ask someone who has done harm, “Who do you think has been affected by what you did?,” is to assume that learning and growth are possible.”

We began this summary by saying that 2016 was a transition year for us. In 2017, we are suspending the bulk of our work as we take time to evaluate and assess our mission, organizational structure, and capacity. We will continue to have a presence on social media during this period. Keep your eyes and ears open for future announcements from us about how we will move forward. Thanks to everyone for your support over the past 8 years.


Update on the Burge Torture Survivors Reparations Fight

We are thrilled that Alderman Ed Burke, Chair of the Finance Committee, announced that the committee will hold a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 am. In recent months, Project NIA and our friends at Amnesty International, BYP100, Chicago Light Brigade, CTJM and We Charge Genocide have stepped up to organize marches, demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins, exhibition-ins, teach-ins and more to demand a hearing and passage of the ordinance; and our efforts are paying off. As torture survivor Darrell Cannon told the Sun-Times: “People power has a way of getting the attention of the hardest of hearts of politicians.”

Now that we have a hearing, we need you to show up on April 14 at City Hall to demonstrate your support for the ordinance!

april14hearingHow You Can Support the Campaign for Reparations
Leading up to the hearing, please help us keep up the momentum and continue to build support.  Here’s what you can do:

  1. Please call the finance committee members listed here, and ask them if they plan on attending the finance committee hearing on 4.14.15 at 10 a.m.  Ask them to commit to doing so.  It is important for the aldermen and women who support our ordinance to attend that meeting and publicly demonstrate their support for our ordinance with their presence and their votes.
  2. Here’s how you can “Fight for Reparations in 10 minutes or Less.” Please participate and invite others to do the same.
  3. Join us on March 31, 2015 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at a rally outside of the Mayoral debate at WTTW studio. Chicagoans are talking about reparations. The Mayoral candidates must do the same.
  4. Come meet others in the movement at a potluck on April 1st, from 6 – 8 p.m. at Grace Place, 637 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605
  5. Attend, host and spread the word about #TeachBurge Teach-Ins taking place through mid-April.
  6. Attend a screening of End of the Nightstick, a documentary about the struggle to expose brutal interrogations and torture by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, on April 12, 2 pm, at Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria). Part of the 2nd annual Injustice for All film festival organized by Trinity Church. If you are planning to attend the hearing on 4/14, we especially encourage you to stay for the discussion following the screening. We will be explaining what to expect at the hearing.
  7. Please donate to the Reparations Now Campaign. Every dollar counts as we continue to seek justice for Burge police torture survivors.

Chicago Police Torture and Reparations Exhibition-In at City Hall

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

The commitment and creativity of activists involved in this struggle has been truly inspiring. Take a peek at the Chicago Police Torture & Reparations Exhibition-In (captured in Storify), a dramatization of the history and legacy of Chicago police torture through an interactive art exhibition and teach-in at City Hall, right outside Mayor Emanuel’s office, organized by us and friends.  Read our friend Kelly Hayes’s recap of the event here. Check out a set of terrific photos of the exhibition and teach-in by Sarah Jane Rhee and Tom Callahan HERE.

Kuumba Lynx Brings Down the House at #LTAB2015

Don’t preach about terrorism when you keep it breathing and beating.”

On Saturday, an incredible group of young poets and activists from Kuumba Lynx showed Chicago what it means to speak out against the cycle of police torture and genocide. They blew the audience away – and made clear the need for reparations, for making amends. Watch the brilliant performance that won the Louder Than A Bomb team finals, and listen closely.

If you would like to get more involved in the campaign for Reparations for Chicago Police Torture Survivors, please email

For more information on the ordinance and the Chicago police torture cases check out

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.


September 26: No Selves to Defend Closing Reception

All good things must come to an end…

Please join us on Friday September 26 from 6 to 8 pm. for the closing reception of the No Selves to Defend exhibition.

No Selves Opening Reception (7/18/14)

No Selves Opening Reception (7/18/14)

September 26
6 to 8 pm
Art in These Times
2040 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd floor
(space is not wheelchair accessible)


Read more an interview about the exhibition with co-curator, Mariame Kaba, here.

New Exhibition Opening 7/18 – No Selves To Defend: Criminalizing Women of Color

NO SELVES TO DEFEND: CRIMINALIZING WOMEN OF COLOR – July 18 and September 21, 2014 – at Art In These Times

In the words of writer Mychal Denzel Smith, “Marissa Alexander was just trying to save her life” when she was assaulted and threatened (again) by her estranged husband. When she retrieved a gun and fired a warning shot in self-defense, she could not have imagined being convicted and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. Yet we know from history that too often women who protect themselves from unrelenting violence are criminalized.

‘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.

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The exhibition includes original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. You can find a preview of the art HERE. It also includes ephemera and artifacts from Mariame Kaba’s collection.

The exhibition is organized by Project NIA, Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women and the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. It is co-curated by Rachel Caidor and Mariame Kaba.

The exhibition is made possible by generous individual donors who contributed to a summer fundraiser. The Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network is co-sponsor of the Opening Reception.

‘No Selves To Defend’ will be accompanied by discussions and other events. Everyone is invited to participate.

Visit Art in These Times – Art ITT is located on the 2nd floor of 2040 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647

The exhibition is open to the public Mondays through Fridays from 10 to 5 p.m.

Group tours will be available on select Saturdays. Please contact to schedule a group tour.

Please join us on Friday July 18th from 6 to 9 p.m. for the Opening Reception for No Selves to Defend. RSVP via Facebook Page

June 7: “No Knock” An Artistic Speak-Out Against The American Police State

The Revolutionary Poets Brigade of Chicago presents a public program of artists and activists to discuss and empower ourselves against the increasing reality of the American Police State: a complex system of oppression made up of many interrelated parts, from police brutality to the school-to-prison pipeline to corporate mergers with the state to mass-surveillance by the government. What is a “police state?” In what ways are we facing (or approaching) “police state” conditions in the U.S.? And most importantly, what can we do to protect our rights?

by Gordon Parks

by Gordon Parks

Assuming good weather, we will gather at the fountain on the “island” between Ashland, Division, and Milwaukee. (In case of rain, we will be at Young Chicago Authors, 1180 N. Milwaukee).

The program will be posted soon!

This event will be held in solidarity with a reading on the same day and subject by the San Francisco Revolutionary Poets Brigade (the original Chapter,

Here’s the Facebook Event Page.

April 27: Tulia, Texas Screening and Discussion

Please join us on April 27…


Watch the film and stay for the panel discussion which will include:

Alex Bahls — Students for A Sensible Drug Policy (University of Chicago Chapter)

Angela Caputo — Chicago Reporter

Jasson Perez — Black Youth Project

Eliza Solowiez — First Defense Legal Aid

You can find information about the entire Injustice For All Film Festival and can register HERE.

April-June 2014: PIC and Criminalization Events (Updated)

April 24, 2014 —  Roosevelt University, 1 p.m. —  A Summit on Counsel for Children During Police Interrogations —  You are invited to examine the impact of the 2008 European Court of Human Rights decision extending counsel to children (and adults) during police interrogations and its implications for children in Illinois, particularly those at risk of adult trial and incarceration. Register HERE.

April 24-May 3, 2014 Injustice For All Film Festival — Across Chicago.

Our screening and discussion of Tulia,Texas is on April 27, 2014. Details are HERE. JOIN US!

April 29, 2014Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander Membership Meeting – at Chicago Freedom School, 719 S. State Street #3N, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

April 29, 2014 – Join Chicago Public Schools and Project NIA for a discussion about School Discipline. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Alternatives Inc., 4730 N. Sheridan Road. The discussion will focus on CPS’s suspension and expulsion reduction plan. Come hear what their plans are and offer your input and suggestions for change. Register HERE (especially if you need childcare). Free and open to everyone. Food will be provided.

May 1, 2014 — UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The Right To Play Exhibit Opening — 4 to 7 p.m.
FREE, All ages welcome.

Celebrate May Day at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum! Join us for the opening of the museum’s newest exhibit, Unfinished Business: The Right to Play, which explores the history of the social movements that created the first playgrounds, fought for an eight-hour work day, and suggested that time off from work could create a more just world. On May 1, the museum and courtyard will be bustling with activity: field games, food trucks, DJs, live music, and performances by the Jesse White Tumbling Team and other youth ensembles. Rain or shine, we invite visitors to exercise their right to play!

Exhibit Highlights:

● “Eight Hour” songs: In partnership with the Hideout, the Studs Terkel Festival, and the Logan Center, JAHHM invites five local bands to reimagine labor songs composed by Progressive ­Era activists. Listen to records that feature new and old renditions of the songs.

● Prison Neighborhood Arts Project Collaboration, Freedom and Time: In collaboration with the Prison Neighborhood Arts Project, JAHHM showcases
an animation by incarcerated artists at Stateville Prison. Drawing on PNAP’s distinctive model of teaching and art­making, artists spent a semester exploring freedom, play, and time with teaching artist Damon Locks.

● Another World Is Possible: The eight-­hour workday movement called for “eight hours work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” A century later, activists and thinkers continue to imagine ways to structure economies and work that allow all people to experience their full humanity. JAHHM presents four of these models as interactive infographics.

● Freedom Dreams: Activists and community members consider the questions, “What is freedom? When have you felt the most free?” Their responses will hang in the exhibit for visitors to read and contemplate.

● Jolly Romp: Take a swing on a kinetic sculpture by the Stockyard Institute’s Jim Duignan.

● Right to Play Zine: Learn about why Hull-­House reformers thought play was a crucial component of social change and try out some of their favorite games.

May 2, 2014 — American Jails: The Final Frontier for Correctional Reform– 2 to 4:30 p.m. — Discussion featuring Michael Jacobson, Director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, former Director and President of the Vera Institute of Justice, NYC Probation and correction commissioner, and author of Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration.

Where: Loyola University Chicago, Philip H. Corboy Law Center, Power Rogers & Smith Ceremonial Courtroom, 10th Floor, 25 East Pearson St

RSVP: The event is free, but please RSVP by emailing or calling JHA’s Office Manager Dan Hoffman, 312-503-6300.

Over the past two decades, increased attention has been paid to sentencing reform and the incorporation of evidence-based practices in the fields of criminal law and procedures as well as in institutional and community corrections. From revisions in sentencing structures to treatment-focused specialty courts, efforts have been undertaken by states, the federal government, and a wide range of advocacy groups to reduce reliance on prisons and to enhance the quality and effectiveness of community corrections.However, less attention has been paid to the roughly 3,000 U.S. jails, where more than 13 million people cycle in and out of detention annually.

American Jails will feature national and local experts on correctional reform, including Michael Jacobson, David Olson of Loyola University Chicago and John Maki of the John Howard Association. They will provide an overview of reform efforts that have been attempted across the country to reduce the reliance on jails and a discussion of the challenges and issues facing the Cook County Jail, the largest single-site detention facility in the United States.

May 10, 2014 – African American Cultural Center at UIC — 1 to 5 p.m. — Introduction to the PIC 101 — Pre-register HERE.
This 4-hour workshop provides participants with an introductory understanding about the role and impact of prisons in the U.S. Participants will engage in interactive activities that focus on understanding the history and economic underpinnings of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

Saturday, May 10, 2014
1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
African American Cultural Center (Library, 2nd floor)
University of Illinois at Chicago (Addams Hall)
830 S. Halsted
[You actually have to enter the campus to find the building; it’s tricky so read the signs on the buildings or ASK FOR DIRECTIONS]

Bring your lunch
This workshop is facilitated by members of the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective.

May 16-17, 2014National Forum on Police Crimes with Angela Davis

May 28-30, 2014Freedom Dreams…Freedom NOW – Join us for an intergenerational interactive gathering of scholars, artists & activists to wrestle with the past and imagine & organize for a better future.Speakers & Participants include: Angela Davis, Julian Bond, Robin D.G.Kelley, Rosa Clemente

June 2-4, 2014Reconnecting The Pathways — A statewide juvenile justice focused conference. Registration is now open and is on a sliding scale.

June 14, 2014 — Columbia College — 1 to 4 p.m., Understanding Prison Abolition 101 — This workshop is facilitated by Project NIA and members of the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective. Details to come. Bring Your Lunch. $10 to $20 sliding scale. Space is limited.

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