In the summer of 2020, the national conversation about police brutality shifted from talk of reform to talk of dismantling an inherently unjust and racist system. In this panel, we turned our attention to the way this system has impacted generations of incarcerated youth and their families and to investigate paths to real justice. Panelists included investigative journalist Nell Bernstein, author of Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison; celebrated young adult author Ibi Zoboi, who collaborated with Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five on Punching the Air, a stirring novel-in-verse about finding hope when wrongfully incarcerated; and Nic Stone, whose latest book, Dear Justyce, gives voice to an imprisoned black teenager through his letters to Justyce.
In a conversation moderated by Miwa Messer, guests discussed what it means to write about these issues for young readers in a year that has many parents looking to literature to help their children understand the world we live in now.
Presented in collaboration with the Center for Nuleadership on Human Justice & Healing.
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
By Nell Bernstein
Published by New Press
In what the San Francisco Chronicle called “an epic work of investigative journalism that lays bare our nation’s brutal and counterproductive juvenile prisons and is a clarion call to bring our children home,” Nell Bernstein eloquently argues that there is no good way to lock up a child. Making the radical argument that state-run detention centers should be abolished completely, her “passionate and convincing” (Kirkus) book points out that our system of juvenile justice flies in the face of everything we know about what motivates young people to change.
Punching the Air
By Yusef Salaam & Ibi Zoboi
Published by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both..
By Nic Stone
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
In the highly anticipated sequel to her New York Times bestseller Dear Martin, Nic Stone delivers an unflinching look into the flawed practices and silenced voices in the American juvenile justice system. Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce—the protagonist of Dear Martin—Quan’s story takes form. Troubles at home and misunderstandings at school give rise to police encounters and tough decisions. But then there’s a dead cop and a weapon with Quan’s prints on it. What leads a bright kid down a road to a murder charge? Not even Quan is sure.