Updated: Feb 5, 2022
Many of you know me as the Communications and Office Manager for the Office of the Juvenile Defender and while I haven't personally written a blog like this, I have always wanted to speak on what I have seen as a Black child and now adult working in the Juvenile Justice world.
When you are of African descent, it is probably one of the first things you learn about yourself when you are old enough to recognize that you look entirely different from your schoolmates. At the same time, they are going through that same realization, and all of a sudden it's a new world. Everyone wanted to touch my hair, ask if I am from Africa, if my freckles are real, see if my skin color wipes off, etc., (yes, this all actually happened to me), and as I got older, it was easy to see how differently everyone else was raised. Black kids can walk through the halls and be called the ugliest names, then that bleeds out into when we go shopping or even just driving down the street. One of my biggest reasons for joining OJD was to become a part of the conversation surrounding the racial injustices I experienced, my family and friends experienced, other Black and Brown people experienced, and the disproportionate rate that some of my childhood friends entered the system, most for minor things.
Black children are five times more likely to be detained or committed to YDC than their white counterparts (NACDL) and with that comes this fear that no matter what these children do, on any given day, their chance of getting in trouble is five times worse than anyone else's. There is an inherent fear that drives many Black children to try and act as best as they can, because not days ago, they may have seen a friend thrown to the ground for not speaking to the police officer who asked a question or turned on the TV and saw someone their age shot and killed for being in the wrong neighborhood. I distinctly remember being in high school (I was 1 of maybe 80 Black students), waiting for my turn in the lunch line and being pushed out the way, called the "word that must not be spoken" and then getting into trouble for reacting. While it may not seem like to some worth reacting over, the constant slurring one day reaches a breaking point, even as a child. It wasn't my finest moment, but I hope that the young woman who thought it was okay, hopefully never said it again.
To say the way that Black children are treated in the legal system is unfair would be a poor choice of words. It would be diminishing the fact that everything about Black children once they step foot into a courtroom is picked apart and cannon fodder for harsher adjudications and punishment. It would be turning a blind eye to so many things that need to be improved before there is even HOPE for a level playing field. I have sat in committee meetings and read reports on the rates just in North Carolina alone that left me so angry, at times I felt like maybe I should go to law school and take that rage as far up as I could go, just to work for change.
Black History Month is 28 days of companies, brands, and people working to show just how much they are on the side of equality, but for us Black people, that fight is 365 days, 366 if we're lucky. It's a month of education, where data and statistics are talked about in commercials and on posters, but it can feel like once March 1 hits, there's nothing to speak about anymore. That's not the case. The fight for equality, the fight for Black children's rights, and fair treatment in court is every day. I love being able to bring my Black experience to OJD, to speak from a side of knowing and feeling what it's like to be seen but not recognized as 100% equal. My Black experience lets me be a part of conversations with some legal heavy hitters and to be able to speak to that push for change, I will forever be grateful.
Happy Black History Month to my kinfolk. We still have 10 more months in the year to celebrate our joy, talk about our history and have every opportunity to take up space in the conversations that should be working to bring better for the next generations. If you didn't know already, I got your back from here in the Office of the Juvenile Defender.
Written by LaTobia Avent, Communications and Office Manager for OJD, HBCU Grad and proud granddaughter of a member of the Black Panther Party and a Tuskegee Airman.