Popular Education

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.


April 12: Understanding the School to Prison Pipeline 101

Pre-Register HERE

The trend of harsh school discipline practices such as suspension, expulsions, and zero tolerance policies in public schools do more to increase student involvement in the criminal punishment system than to correct or curb behavior. Research suggests that when students are suspended or expelled, the likelihood that they will repeat a grade, not graduate, and/or become involved in the juvenile justice system increases significantly. In Chicago, Black students and children with special education needs are suspended and expelled at particularly high rates.


Join Mariame Kaba, Director of Project NIA, for “Understanding the STPP,” an introductory workshop about the impact of school discipline policies and solutions to dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP). Participants will leave the workshop with an understanding of Chicago-specific school discipline data and an overview of how the STPP operates. This is an INTRODUCTORY workshop appropriate for people who do not have much knowledge about the dynamics of the STPP.

For those who are very familiar with the STPP & are looking for curriculum ideas, etc…, visit the Suspension Stories website.

Mariame is co-author of the reports “Policing Chicago Public Schools. She has also co-authored essays about the school-to-prison pipeline as well as restorative justice including: Arresting the Carceral State (with Erica Meiners) and Restorative Justice is Not Enough: School-Based Interventions in the Carceral State (with Hereth, Lewis, and Meiners).

When: Saturday, April 12, 2014
Where: Roosevelt University, 425 S. Wabash Ave, Room 418
Time: 1 to 4:00 p.m.
Info: Bring your lunch. This workshop is at no cost to participants. However space is limited and Pre-Registration is REQUIRED.

NO WALK-INS WILL BE ACCEPTED. We also ask that you please be considerate of others who would really like to attend this workshop. DO NOT SIGN UP WITHOUT BEING CERTAIN THAT YOU WILL ATTEND. We really mean this.

Chicago Transformative Justice Fall Calendar (October-December 2013)

Chicago Transformative Justice Fall Calendar

(October-December 2013)

October 11 – “Reparations On My Soul”: Opening Reception and Conversation – 6 to 9 pm, Art In These Times 2040 N. Milwaukee Ave.

A new exhibit by the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials at Art In These Times, explores reparations as a meaningful act of redress for over 100 African American men who were systematically tortured by former Commander Jon Burge and other white detectives under his command on the South Side of Chicago. Displaying works by local and national artists that imagine speculative memorials recalling the city’s history of police torture and the struggle against it, this exhibit honors the survivors of torture, their families and the African American communities affected by the torture.

For more information, click HERE.

October 14 – JUSTICE. POWER. RESPECT – 10 to 5 p.m. Clarendon Park, 4501 N. Clarendon, 2nd floor

In celebration of National Youth Justice Awareness month, a number of organizations have gather together to address the harm caused by traumatic interactions with Chicago police, youth criminalization and celebrate our struggle to build justice, power and respect. This event includes workshops, discussion, open mike and other performances. It is FREE with food provided. Youth participation is particularly welcome to attend.

The event Facebook page is HERE.

October 16 – Restorative Justice and Youth Violence in Chicago After Trayvon Martin – 6 pm – Columbia College Conaway Center at 1104 S Wabash Ave

A multidisciplinary program and discussion featuring community activists, and Columbia faculty, staff, and students. The event is FREE.

October 18 – Perspectives From A Life Held Captive, 6-9pm Threewalls Gallery, 119 N. Peoria St.

Join us for a one night event of music, readings and a silent auction to support future projects and classes. Threewalls Gallery is walking distance from the Morgan stop on the Pink and Green Line, and near the Randolph St. exit on 90/94 fwy.

Join the Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project for music, readings and a silent auction to support future projects and classes. You can also view an exhibition of creative work from a year of classes and collaborations between free and incarcerated artists, scholars and writers at Stateville Prison.

October 18 – Healing is Not Linear: Healing Internalized Oppression Roundtable – 7 to 9 pm  — Sage Community Room 2514 W. Armitage Suite 205

Join Sage Community Health Collective for a Roundtable Discussion about healing from trauma and the role internalized oppression has on our healing process. Mariame Kaba, Director of Project Nia will facilitate, focusing on questions such as : What are the connections between healing generation trauma, violence in our communities, and internalized oppression? How does it affect our work, family and personal lives? How do we get away from blaming and shaming ourselves throughout the healing process? Participants are invited to come discuss and share stories of how we heal.
Cost: $10-30 sliding scale; no one turned away; Please R.S.V.P to sagecommunityhealth@gmail.com

October 19 — Community Share – Free Healing Event – 2 to 4 p.m. — Family Matters, 7731 N Marshfield (near the Howard stop on the Red Line)

Join Project Nia for a Community Share, free healing event. On October 19 from 2 – 4 pm, various community members will gather at Family Matters in Rogers Park. People are invited to receive free short healing treatments and also to share their own healing skills with others. (You don’t have to share any skills in order to come and enjoy the event — you can simply come to receive). There will be massage, movement therapies, reiki energy healing, hypnosis, yoga and stretching, and ear acupressure, among others.

If you would like to attend for services and/or if you have a skill you would like to share (like active listening, stretching workshop, manicures, etc) please email Michelle at niawellness@yahoo.com to reserve your spot. People are also encouraged to bring healthy snacks to share, if they’re able. Everyone welcome (until we run out of space!)

October 22 — “Reparations for Torture Survivors?”  — 6-7:30pm, Art in These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee

Last month Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said decades of torture by police officers of African American suspects under former Police Commander Jon Burge was a “dark chapter in the history of the city of Chicago” and a “stain on the city’s reputation.” But has justice been done? What would reparations for Burge’s victims look like? View the new exhibit “Reparations On My Soul” and join the In These Times “Hot Off the Press Party” after this conversation with Flint Taylor, founding partner of the People’s Law Office.

For more information, click HERE.

October 28 – Potluck & Candlelight Vigil for Marissa Alexander – 6 to 8:30 p.m. Hull House Museum, 800 S. Halsted – Details are HERE.

November 8 – Dandelions in the Concrete: Healing Arts, Creative Interventions — 5 to 8 pm, DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus. SAC Pit–2320 N. Kenmore

Join Building Communities, Ending Violence for creative arts as responses to everyday oppression and violence (including transformative justice note card making), mini workshops, and open mic for poetry, spoken word, music, and performance.  And we’ll have refreshments and delicious foods to share! This event is FREE.

November 9 – Explaining Jail & Prison to Children with Incarcerated Loved Ones – 10 to 4 pm, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave

Join us as we discuss the impact(s) of prison on children and address ways to explain it to them. This event is relevant for families with incarcerated loved ones and individuals who work with children of the incarcerated (as educators, caregivers, or service providers).

Registration is at no cost to participants and Pre-registration is required. Click to Register

This event organized by Project NIA and co-sponsored by the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice & Transformation, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), Lawndale Amachi Mentorship Program (LAMP), Prisoner & Family Ministry Connection (Lutheran Social Service),

November 10 – Film Screening: Natural Life — 3 p.m. Location: Hull House Museum, Dining Hall, 800 S. Halsted Street.

This screening is followed by a discussion moderated by Jill Petty with Tirtza Even, artist and filmmaker, Mariame Kaba, Project NIA Director, and Shobha Mahadev, Project Director of the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children. This event is FREE.

November 15 – Picturing A World Without Prisons: An Exhibition – Opening Reception, 6 p.m.  Human Thread Gallery- 1200 W. 35th street, 5th floor (Bridgeport Art Center)

Join Project NIA & Free Write Jail Arts Program for an exhibition that asks everyone to imagine a world without prisons. The exhibition runs from 11/11 to 12/9 at the Human Thread Gallery. Submissions for the exhibition will be accepted until October 15th. Details are HERE.

November 16 – Prison Impact: Roundtable Discussion – 3 pm – LOCATION TBD.

A conversation with movement organizers on working and resisting within a carceral state. This discussion moderated by Erica Meiners features Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Moratorium on Deportations, Evan Lyon (Department of Medicine faculty, University of Chicago), Charity Tolliver (Black Thought, Black Action), Benny Lee (National Alliance for the Empowerment of Formerly Incarcerated People).

A workshop will follow in which attendees will be encouraged to imagine reallocating the State’s nearly $1.3 billion Department of Corrections 2013 budget.

December 4 — The Art of Giving at the HumanThread Gallery in the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th street. 

The Art of Giving is an opportunity to create art while still reflecting, recognizing and remembering the young people incarcerated in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC).  This event will be happening during the powerful Picturing A World Without Prisons: Images, Words, & Sounds exhibit.  We will be screen printing, making cards for youth and other great arts/crafts projects.  All we ask is for a donation of item(s) requested by youth at the JTDC, you can find the list below as well as on the flyer attached.  If you are unable to join us for the event and would still like to donate please feel free to contact Jenine at jenine@illinoissafeschools.org. Please, RSVP at our Eventbrite or on our Facebook Page.

December 5 — Everyday Responses to Everyday Harassment — 6 to 9 pm, DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus — (2320 N. Kenmore; take elevators right inside door to 3rd Floor, Levan 308) –  Join Building Bridges, Ending Violence for this strategy session focused on building community accountability for interrupting violence. For further information, contact: arusso@depaul.edu. This event is FREE.

We will gladly keep adding to this calendar of events so please feel free to email us at projectnia@hotmail.com with more information.

No Selves to Defend: Curriculum for Marissa Alexander Teach-In

marissaalexander On the occasion of Marissa Alexander’s 33rd birthday, we hosted a teach-in about her case in the context of others involving women of color who were criminalized for defending from violence.

Even before we facilitated the teach-in we were asked by others if we could share the curriculum and materials with them. A big part of our work at Project NIA is focused on making information readily available in the spirit of collaboration and a desire for a more just world.

As such, we are making the curriculum and materials that were developed by Mariame Kaba freely available. Please feel free to adapt the materials however you choose. We only ask that you make sure to credit Project NIA for the materials as you use them. In addition, please be aware that this curriculum was only offered once and is a work in progress. The feedback was very positive but we would definitely appreciate it if you would share any improvements you make to the curriculum. We would love to keep adding to it and sharing what you develop with others too. We will happily upload your materials here for others to use.



Marissa Alexander Case Study Final

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion (hand this out with the case study above)

The Violence Matrix by Dr. Beth Richie



VAW Prison Historical Timeline

APPENDIX (Additional Information)

You can hand out the following document during the historical timeline activity to the small groups that might be discussing the cases of Inez Garcia, the New Jersey 7, Joan Little, and CeCe McDonald (in case they don’t have enough background on the cases). CASE STUDIES (Optional)

The following is a handout developed by the Free Marissa Now Campaign with a list of ACTIONS that folks can take to support her.

If you are going to facilitate this teach-in, I suggest that you read this STATEMENT ABOUT MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING (PDF) and its intersection with domestic violence and racism developed by the Free Marissa Now Campaign. It would also be a good resource for teach-in participants as well.

Facilitators might also want to read the statement of Incite! calling for the freedom of Marissa Alexander. The statement does a terrific job underscoring the social forces that led to her criminalization while also showing how to do intersectional analysis.

The National Coalition against Domestic Violence can also provide facilitators with background information that might be helpful (this is especially true if you don’t have a grounding in the dynamics of DV).

Finally, I encourage facilitators who are new to thinking about the Prison Industrial Complex to read through The PIC Is which is a zine that was developed by us and the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective. It’s a quick read and provides a brief intro to the PIC.

Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to address them to Mariame at projectnia@hotmail.com.

Resources & Ideas for Discussing Transformative Justice…

Today, we officially kick off Chicago Transformative Justice Fall with a new resource/curriculum guide that was created by Billy Dee and Mariame Kaba with contributions by Micah Bazant, Ann Russo, and Lewis Wallace.

The transformative justice curriculum guide (PDF) 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.

We hope that you will use the ideas included in the guide to facilitate rich discussions in your chosen communities. We also hope that you will link the ideas addressed in the guide to concrete actions that you are or might take to transform harm and create more justice in the world.

Finally, please make it a point to join us for the opening of our upcoming art exhibit that will meditate on topics such as justice, a world without prisons, and more on November 15th. We invite groups to make arrangements to visit during the course of the exhibition’s run.

No Selves to Defend: A Teach-In About Marissa Alexander, Women of Color, & Self-Defense cases

Please join Project NIA for a teach-in about the Marissa Alexander case and others focused on women of color who have made self-defense claims in response to violence directed at them.

This teach-in is organized in solidarity with the call for nationwide rallies and other events focused on Marissa Alexander and her case.

Saturday, September 14, 2013
1:00 to 4:30 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]

Bring your lunch

Space is Limited and RSVPs are required at projectnia@hotmail.com

You can download a flier for the event HERE.

Read the Incite! call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER for more context about this case.


New Resource: A Youth-Friendly Reader About Trayvon Martin Case

by Alixa Garcia (Arise for Assata Project)

by Alixa Garcia (Arise for Assata Project)

Since the jury declared its verdict of not-guilty in the George Zimmerman trial, many people have written excellent articles about Trayvon Martin, the legal case, the endemic racism in the nation’s institutions, and more.
Everyone wanted to add their words to the conversation and as a result it felt like we were being inundated with commentary.

Because we work with young people, we decided to collect some of the writing that we found to be most affecting and most illuminating about the issues involved in the Trayvon Martin case. We took care to include writing that would be accessible to young people with an 8th grade reading level.

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.

You can download the reader HERE (PDF).

Special thanks to Victoria Law who suggested some of the articles to include in this publication and to Antonia Clifford who answered our call for a volunteer graphic designer.

We hope that you find this resource helpful.

In peace and solidarity,

Mariame Kaba
Founder and Director, Project NIA

RACE. JUSTICE. POWER: Through the Lens of the Trayvon Martin Case and Its Relevance to Chicago

by Ricardo Levins Morales

by Ricardo Levins Morales

WED July 17 | 7-9:30 PM

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts Performance Hall (1st Floor)
915 E. 60th Street (at Drexel)
(Green Line Cottage Grove/63rd stop)

Free. Please share with youth and adults communities.

Facilitated by Prudence Brown and Danton Floyd. Speakers include Malcolm X College Professor Abra Johnson, author and writer for The Gaurdian, Gary Younge.

Teach-in description:


The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Black Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, has ignited protests and triggered debates about the nature of race, class, gender, violence and power in this country. There have been a flood of emotions and editorials surround the Zimmerman trial and Martin death. This teach-in is an opportunity to delve into the underlying issues that surround this case and what it represents in a larger socio-political context. Pressing issues explored at the teach-in include:
  • What has been the role of mainstream media in framing or distorting the case?
  • How does this case fit into the larger frame of the growing prison industry, criminalization of Black and Brown youth, and the escalating problem of gun violence?
  • What are the lessons about the mechanisms of change or the limits of certain mechanisms for change – how effective are mass pressure/ mobilization? Petitions? Art? The court system? Social media?
  • What would “justice” look like in this case, especially given there is such widespread criticism of incarceration as a solution? How do prison abolitionists respond to the George Zimmerman trial?

Additionally we will collectively explore the implications of the Martin murder and Zimmerman acquittal in light of the ongoing crises of violence, school closings and deteriorating life chances for Black and Brown youth in Chicago.

This will be an interactive teach-in with resources and information provided in multiple formats.

Co-conveners: Charity Tolliver, Lisa Brock, Tracye Matthews, Cathy Cohen, Jasson Perez, David Stovall, Barbara Ransby, Danton Floyd, Mia Henry, Asha Ransby-Sporn, Mariame Kaba, FM Supreme, Alice Kim, Rev. Janette Wilson, Kevin Coval, Isis Ferguson, Lisa Yun Lee, Touissaint Losier, Deana Lewis, Lynette Jackson, James Thindwa, Martha Biondi, Fresco Steez.