Call for Youth Organizations: Youth Leadership & Activism Summit

Project MI is busy planning our First Annual Youth Leadership & Activism Summit, “My City, My Voice,” co-sponsored by LeMoyne Owen College and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.  Save the date!  This FREE Summit will be held on Saturday, July 28, 2018 from 9am-4:30pm at LeMoyne Owen College.

The highlight of the program is a listening session that will invite youth to discuss their challenges and questions along with Memphis elected officials and other leaders in a moderated solution-driven forum.   If you know of youth groups or organizations (aged 14-18) that might benefit from this listening session and the below planned summit programming, please drop the organization name in the comments, or email with a contact for the youth organization so we can be sure to invite them.

Thanks so much!

Planned Programming:

Memphis Leaders Panel:  Dynamic Memphis leaders from different fields will share their various paths to leadership and what it means to be a leader and activist in Memphis.

Know Your Rights Theatre (presented by MidSouth Peace and Justice Center):  A dramatic performance workshop that encourages lawful and peaceful interactions between youth and law enforcement.

Community Advocacy Listening Session Workshop:  Community leaders will work with youth to prepare for the “Listening Session with Memphis Leaders & Elected Officials,”  by learning effective community advocacy techniques.

Listening Session with Memphis Leaders and Elected Officials: This Session will invite elected officials, community advocates, and other Memphis leaders to join youth in a moderated forum to discuss youth concerns, questions, and pathways forward.

My City, My Voice Call to Action: Youth voice does not end at the Summit!  Participants will be encouraged to take action by becoming a continuous voice and community advocate.  

Building Our Communities Art Contest: Winners Announced!

We are very happy to announce the winners of the Project MI “Building Our Communities” Art Contest.   High School students were asked how they would build our communities and stop the school-to-prison pipeline.   In response we received fantastic work!

First, second, and third place winners will receive a “Back to School” Scholarship at our July 2018 Youth Leadership & Activism Summit, “My City, My Voice.”

First Place

Artist: Christopher Morris

Artwork Title: “Success”

Artwork Narrative: “I have made huge changes in my life. I came from gangs and doing plenty of things I know I shouldn’t have done. I grew up with no guidance or mentors so my previous life decisions weren’t good and could have eventually sent me to prison. Then came football, it changed me and made me realize I wanted to do something better with my life. I currently have several football college scholarship offers that motivate me to keep going and do the best I can. Football is giving me many opportunities to pursue what I want to do in life, and navigating me above the negative choices, upwards in the right direction.”

1st Place

Second Place

Artist: Renard Gwynn

Artwork Title: “Stop the Bullet”

Artwork Narrative: “The bullet in my drawing represents failure, gang association, homelessness, and prison. The brick wall, which represents organizations and people who care about our future, protects the bullet from destroying young black men like myself. Bricks of brotherhood and positive mentors help young black men break the pipe line to prison. The other side represents a man with his head tattooed with success because he is able to remain separated from the negative surroundings.”

2nd Place

Third Place

Artist: Terry Carter

Artwork Title: “Story of a Young Black Boy”

Artwork Narrative: “This is a story about a young black boy in our city of Memphis. This boy wants a chance, most boys don’t get a chance in our city and most don’t make it to 19 years old. Sometimes there is a choice; prison or fame.”

3rd Place

Honorable Mention

Artist: Jadveon Perkins

Artwork Title: “P.U.R.E.”

Artwork Narrative: “P.U.R.E. stands for Progressing Under Restraints and Extremes, an organization that focuses on education, football, and character for the youth of Memphis. P.U.R.E. is used in my artwork as a representation of the fence that surrounds me made of brothers, coaches, teachers, and family. Within my fence I am able to create new books containing positive chapters in my life. If we had other organizations like P.U.R.E. I believe it will keep young people out of prison.”

Honorable Mention

Artist: Jordan Armour

Artwork Title: “Do the Right Thing”

Artwork Narrative: “The idea I chose to draw centered around family. The reason why I drew this idea is because to me, family influences kids from going to jail by teaching them what is right and what is wrong. For example, your mother/ father always tells you not to steal anything from the store. The theme of this competition ties in with my artwork by showing people that if you can trust your parents and try to think or understand that they were trying to prevent you from doing something bad, then you or any other kid wouldn’t have to end up in jail in the first place. In this picture, this girl realized that her parents/family was trying to help her this whole time and now she understands what her family has been trying to do for her all this time, even if they were mean to her.”

Honorable Mention 2

Congratulations to each of our winners!

Youth Advocacy Program Recruitment & Informational (January Meet-Up)

On Monday, January 8, 2018 at 6pm Project MI will hold its first Meet-Up of 2018!

In this meet-up we will be recruiting for our Youth Advocacy Program and providing an informational about our  group mentoring work at G.W. Carver High School.

YAP Recruitment

After our informational, the following committees will meet:

Youth Summit Planning Committee (for those interested in planning programs for youth)

Legislative & Policy Research Committee (for those in the legal and related fields)

Narrative Committee (for artists, other creatives, and anyone interested in telling the real human stories of mass incarceration and our youth)

If you are new to MI, this is the perfect opportunity to learn more about our Youth Advocacy Program and join a committee to get straight to work!

The Meet-Up will be held at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law (1 N. Front St.). Parking on the North side of the Law School, on Court Street, is free beginning at 6pm.


Cyntoia Brown Case Reveals Entrenched Problems with Tennessee Juvenile Justice

Check out this article by Project MI’s executive director Demetria D. Frank appearing in MLK50 that provides a bit of insight to the Cyntoia Brown case.  In a nutshell, Tennessee law makes it easy to throw youth like Brown’s life away, rather than consider the traumas justice involved youth often face and offer them hope of rehabilitation.

In 2004, Brown was convicted of first-degree murder after fatally shooting Johnny Mitchell Allen, a 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent who solicited sex from her when she was 16.  The Cyntoia Brown case went viral last week, 13 years after she was sentenced to life in prison, following this Instagram post by Rihanna:

Rihanna’s Instagram post about the Cyntoia Brown case.

The juvenile justice system was created based on the reality that youth do not have the mental capacity to fully appreciate wrongs.   As noted in the article,  “News stories have focused primarily on the plight of an unfortunate girl subjected to years of sex trafficking and other abuses, finally confronting and killing an abuser but nevertheless sentenced to life in prison for murder.”

Brown’s fate also reveals big problems with Tennessee’s juvenile justice system, especially its mandatory “51-to-life” law and the factors considered in transferring youth to adult courts in Tennessee.

The editorial calls for “Tennessee legislators to lift mandatory minimums for convicted juveniles and recognize youth have no place in the adult system, regardless of the offense.”


Thanks to MLK50 for continuously publishing justice journalism!

Photo by Daniel H. Birman.

Shelby County Proposed Youth Assessment Center

Check out this op-ed series in the Commercial Appeal about the Shelby County Juvenile Court and the prospect of a new Youth Assessment Center.

The position of the youth advocates in this series is simple.  Despite the lure of an assessment center, Shelby County should work on correcting the culture of the now-existing Shelby County Juvenile Court and look for opportunities to maximize our youth’s potential before creating another poorly run institution.

On the heels of the proposed Youth Assessment Center comes news that the U.S. Department of Justice will continue monitoring Shelby County Juvenile Court despite a request from Mayor Mark Luttrell earlier this year to end federal monitoring.

Thanks to all in this series that took the time to lift the voices of our youth in contemplating how we move forward with creating a better justice system!




Youth Advocacy Program Orientation & Training Tonight at 6pm

Those interested in participating in our “Free MI Kids” Youth Advocacy Program (YAP) should plan to attend tonight’s Justice League Training on Monday, September 18, at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Public Library (3030 Poplar Ave) at 6pm where members will be prepared for time with Project STAND students at G.W. Carver High School. All potential group mentors, discussion leaders, and other participants should attend.

The goal of the YAP Training Session is to prepare MI members for group interaction with youth aged 16-18 who have had contact with the justice system. After orientation, training will cover the following topics: how to be a good mentor and engaging opportunity youth.

YAP’s goal is to resource and mentor Carver opportunity youth in a way that recognizes individual youth potential, while providing tools to become better self-advocates. We will also assist youth in goal setting, developing positive self-identity, and communicating social priorities to policy makers. Through our discussions and activities, we additionally aim to gather youth perspectives on education, the youth justice system, and social progress.

Be MI Voice! Call for Bloggers.

Contact Project MI by email if you have interest in serving as a blog contributor to the Project MI group website.  Weekly MI Voice blogs will be posted to the website, as well as shared on Project MI social media platforms, including Facebook.   The MI Voice will also feature artwork on relevant topics.

Blog potential topics may address any area broadly touching mass incarceration, including, but not limited to: education, poverty, health/mental health, justice reform, recidivism, economic justice, leadership development, community engagement/involvement, voting rights, youth, prison profit, and prisoner rights.

We would also love to see perspectives from those with experience in the justice system, and those with loved ones in the justice system. Blogs should be at least 500 words in length.

Our perspectives are important and they matter.  We can learn from all perspectives, but no hate and no politics!

Project MI is also in need of volunteer blog editors with writing experience.

Be educated, be active, be vigilant!