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The 2017 Summit Recap: Defenders Are Activated to Lead in the Courtroom and Community

by National Juvenile Defender Center
Oct 30, 2017 - Washington, DC
Acoma Pueblo Buffalo Dancers

We loved every minute of #NJDCSummit — and for that, we humbly thank the people of Albuquerque, New Mexico, especially the Acoma Pueblo Buffalo dancers, for welcoming us to their beautiful home. We also thank our brilliant faculty and the nearly 400 attendees who took important time from the front lines of juvenile court to commit to improving their practice. We’re so grateful for the compassion and dedication that shone in each and every one of you over the weekend.

Mary Ann Scali, executive director of NJDC, opened Summit by invoking the theme of storytelling. And each of the speakers carried that thread through their presentations, whether in a speech or an artistic performance. We hope participants traveled home with this message: Stories matter. The voices of youth matter. And the way we frame our work in the larger context of the “justice” system matters.

Over the next year, we must ask ourselves: What will our story be?

We’re still in awe of the young spoken word artist Aniya Smith of Split This Rock who opened Friday morning with powerful words about Black womanhood. And we were thrilled to welcome Hon. Babara Vigil of the New Mexico Supreme Court, who said, “The voices of defenders must be heard, and the stories of youth must be told over and over again.” Raha Jorjani of the Alameda County Public Defender then spoke about how defenders are human rights attorneys — how they are first responders for immigrant children and families.

Other general sessions included panels with tips for defenders who are advocating for youth experiencing homelessness, effectively representing young people who might face immigration consequences as a result of an arrest or adjudication, and protecting young people from evolving forms of surveillance technology.

And, continuing the thread of storytelling, the Summit spotlighted three programs delving into the intersection of creative expression and justice and healing for youth: Juvenile in JusticeWe Are All Criminals, and Keshet Dance and Center for the Arts.

The program closed out with a powerful panel on race and policing — and an urgent call for creative maladjustment within the defender community. We were then honored to welcome Hakim Bellamy AKA Hakim Be, the inaugural poet laureate of Albuquerque, to the evening reception. His performance beautifully captured the need for voice and expression in the continued fight for justice.

“and without our stories /

we are easily forgotten /

and even easier to dissappear”

Lastly, we’re thrilled to congratulate defender Gar Blume of Alabama and Betsy Clarke of the Juvenile Justice Initiative of Illinois for receiving the 2017 Robert E. Shepherd Jr. Leadership Award. For decades, both have tirelessly steered the ship in their respective states toward fairness and due process for children in court. We salute you!

View the #NJDCSummit photo album on Facebook! 

What do you think?