Truth & Justice Spring series | Unpack: Advocacy

Truth & Justice Spring series

Unpack: Advocacy

Here, Sayuko Setvik reflects on the March 13, 2019 Unpack where Vazaskia Crockwell spoke on juvenile justice, the impact of racial and ethnic disparities, and the power of legislative advocacy.

The evening started out with CeCe Chan & Luci Roman giving a short presentation on Advocacy in Education Equity. They are high school students at Nathan Hale & Ingraham respectively, and active members of the NAACP Youth Coalition, as well as dedicated teachers in Union’s children’s ministry.

They presented on the Youth Coalition’s demands for changes in schools, including mandating ethnic studies in the curriculum, improving discipline practices, hiring staff reflecting the student body demographics, and training staff on issues of race and equity. For a full list of demands, go here.

It is clear that CeCe and Luci have such passion and enthusiasm for this work. We were inspired by how they are finding their voice, making their voice heard, and organizing to get more young voices heard. It was also fun to see them have the chance to encourage & give advice to a couple of high school students from Tacoma who came to our event.

Afterwards, we had the privilege of hearing from Vazaskia Crockwell, Washington State Director of Juvenile Justice, who spoke to us about her life, work, and passion for justice for youth. She has worked at YWCA, the Governor's Interagency Council on Health Disparities, among other places. She explained how each career move was to better serve the needs of people, to advocate for more justice and equity. What most struck me was her comment about our work needing to be aligned with our personal mission. While I completely understand how there can be many situations that prevent us from doing that, I also feel that it is such a gift when we can be involved in serving the needs of communities, helping to further God’s kingdom work of justice and love, and we are rewarded with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This has also led me to think about what my personal mission is, and what our mission is as Christ’s body. What does it look like to be “truth-consecrated in [our] mission”? (John 17:19)

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is guided by this visionary statement: “We envision a nation where all of our children are healthy, educated and free from violence.  Should they come in contact with the juvenile justice system, we want the experience to be rare, fair and beneficial to them.” She showed us data on how past and current practices disproportionately and increasingly affect people of color at each checkpoint such as at the initial police contact point, arrest, and prosecution.    

Youth of color experience systemic racism, as shown by the example of two of the youth leaders at Green Hill School, a juvenile detention facility in Chehalis, one of the facilities under Vazaskia’s supervision. The two young men committed the same crime but were given very different sentences -- the young person of color received a 21 year sentence, while his white counterpart was given a much shorter sentence.

While these statistics are abhorrent and the stories heartbreaking, the video Vazaskia showed us also spoke of the power of change and hope in a place like Green Hill. These youths have been able to be mentored and become mentors to younger kids, get an education in a supportive environment, and find strength in getting their voice heard in work such as the group advocating for representation and improvement in the juvenile justice system, which assisted in the passage of Senate Bill 6160, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, 2018. SB 6160 allows the person sentenced to remain in a youth facility until they’re 25, rather than 21.

Hearing about Vazaskia’s life work, I also felt hopeful that someone like her, a powerful and compassionate role model for these youth, is investing directly into their lives and the juvenile system that have a huge impact on young lives, everyday.

It was a wonderfully inspiring and educational event to kick off our spring series, Unpack: Advocacy. Questions to (continue to) ponder:

1. What is an advocate and why is advocacy important?

2. What are ways that I actively advocate in my community?

3. What skills/tools have I learned or do I need to learn to be a more effective advocate in my community?

A word of encouragement from Vazaskia, from the 2017 “Pursuit for Change” event at Green Hill: “Don’t stop dreaming. When you stop dreaming, you stop living.”

by Sayuko Setvik