Home News Center YJLI Alum Tanesha Coach Tea Ingram Fuels Just Write Community Project with a Passion for Justice

YJLI Alum Tanesha Coach Tea Ingram Fuels Just Write Community Project with a Passion for Justice

July 30, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain and Sarah Natchipolsky

Did your time with YJLI impact how you see yourself as an advocate for youth justice or social justice broadly?

Oh absolutely. I’ve been doing youth justice work since I was about 15 years old. I’ve been a part of many different fellowships before YJLI, but I think YJLI was a fellowship that really supported us as community leaders and advocates with seeing ourselves as a priority and teaching us to incorporate self-care. Diana Onley-Campbell, who directed YJLI at the time, was really a stickler for self-care - honoring us as community organizers, but also seeing us as humans who need to be organizing ourselves as well. That influenced the trainings and discussions we would have and completely altered the way I approach advocacy.

Does that sense of importance around self-care influence how you’re seeing everything that’s going on with the protest movement right now?

Absolutely. I had discussions with some of my comrades about how if this [George Floyd’s death] had been a few years ago, we would without a doubt be on the front lines [protesting and marching]. Some of us now have children or elders we’re caring for. We had to decide that there are other ways to support this movement from where we are now. There’s a sense of guilt that we’ve felt not being able to be with our people at protests, rallies or vigils - but, we’ve discovered that there are other ways to support the work. Some of us are in philanthropy, some of us are designing programs, some of us are actually behind the scenes in the media pushing certain articles and narratives. The whole self-care dialogue played a huge role in being able to accept these new roles and the fact that my work is my work, and I can do that in any way.

Can you tell us about the Just Write Community Project?

My spirit has been working on the Just Write Community Project since I was about 19 years old and it physically launched in 2002. We send love and letters to men, women and children who are incarcerated. It’s about us realizing that those who are incarcerated are still human, and we [as people] are still powerful in that we can stay connected.

It started off as a really small project - sending birthday cards or holiday cards to folks who are incarcerated - and evolved into monthly writing to people on our writers list, some of whom are referred from an organization and others we come across as people just come up to us and ask us to write to people they know. Before COVID-19, we had gatherings in the community that were infused with art and music that allowed community members to come in and write. Those events helped remove the shame that’s often attached to having a person incarcerated. Now because of COVID-19, we’ve been doing everything as a small team and incorporating virtual aspects as well. 

Are there certain messages that you want to try to get across to the young people you write to who are in detention or in some sort of facility?

When we have young people, we try to write celebration and encouragement cards or we’ll just send quotes. We might also send music or poetry. Visual things are really helpful for them, so in one facility we started sending puzzles. We want to send things that can remind them that they are still young people and they had a life before their current situation.

We’re actually about to do a big push to get more young people to write to because they deserve to be remembered, and we don’t get a lot of youth recommendations. Our young people who are incarcerated are still separated from their families and if we’re not writing to them that’s a concern for us.

How are you hoping the Just Write Community Project impacts youth justice or the justice movement in general?

So far, we’ve been able to inform folks on shifting their mindset toward incarcerated individuals as a whole and show that people in prison are people. We want to keep remembering them as our brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles - before their current situation.

We have a big Mother’s Day card drive where we send incarcerated mothers Mother’s Day cards; that campaign alone helps women who are free think about and empathize with mothers who are incarcerated. Those little pieces will shift the whole dynamic of how we see and connect to each other, which in turn impacts where we donate, the type of things that we share and the types of politicians we support. Doing this work from the ground will support the upward spiral of freedom, unity and communication that we’re really standing for.

Are there other things you’re working on?

One of the other things about the Just Write Community Project is that every summer we put on a creativity camp for young people who are impacted by incarceration. We found that, when we were having in-person letter writing sessions, that children were always coming and getting involved. So, we launched the Young Creators Crew two years ago for young people impacted by incarceration to give them a much-needed safe space. We get them involved in acting, improv, yoga and crafting; it’s been amazing to see them have an opportunity to create.
We’re getting ready to do some creative lab days in August. Due to COVID-19, we can’t do as many sessions as we’d normally do but we are going to offer them some creative opportunities.

What can NJJN members or supporters do to support your work?

I am really big on exposure - sharing information and not keeping things to ourselves. I would really encourage folks to share information about the Just Write Community Project; you never know whose inbox it will reach, and hopefully it will get to someone who wants to donate or has a referral of someone to write to. Simply sharing our information will support us with moving our mission forward. This is a project fueled by passion and love, and self-funded, so the more you share about our work - that’s a big enough support for me.


To learn more about the Just Write community project email justwriteone2@gmail.com. or visit them on Facebook. 

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