Home News Center YJLI Fellow Amore Alvarenga Seeks Healing Justice for LGBTQ+ Youth of Color

YJLI Fellow Amore Alvarenga Seeks Healing Justice for LGBTQ+ Youth of Color

April 28, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain

What got you into youth justice reform? 

I am a young queer woman of color and my parents are Central American. They immigrated here from El Salvador and Honduras. Many people in my community have a similar shared history of immigration and building a life here in the United States in the 80s because of the struggles that were taking place in Central American countries at that time.  

I experienced difficulties in my adolescence, however my parents were able to give me access to treatment and rehabilitative options that a lot of my cousins and community members who were doing the same things didn’t have. The same things that I experienced and got help for – school conflicts, sneaking out of the house or smoking marijuana – were things that my cousins and other community members got locked up for. Because my adolescence wasn’t interrupted by system involvement, I was able to move on to college and discover my full potential.  
Witnessing that disparity firsthand pushed me into this space and made me want to address the inequities of this system.  

Can you describe your YJLI advocacy project?  

My advocacy project is based around supporting LGBTQ+ youth who are system involved. We know that LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the youth justice system and LGBTQ+ adults are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In order to address this overrepresentation, we have to confront the specific ways in which the justice systems re-traumatize these communities. I really wanted to focus on LGBTQ+ youth because when we uplift the most marginalized individuals – those who have been most ignored and faced violent instances of compounded oppression – we can learn to heal and provide the necessary interventions for all communities.  

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been conducting research on community-based strategies to help support and uplift LGBTQ+ youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Through my research, I discovered the trauma and resiliency-systems change framework developed by Los Angeles County, which integrates internal organizational culture with external policy execution. It’s a framework that centers community-based empowerment and community healing as the ultimate way to promote safety, health and holistic healing.  

I used the trauma and resiliency-framework to develop strategies my agency can implement to support LGBTQ+ youth and communities who come into contact with the system. We developed the Family Court Pride Initiative, which looks at our internal operations and external community relations. For example, we will look at the cultural competency of our agency’s attorneys, victims advocates, paralegals and other staff members to determine how we can embrace and affirm LGBTQ+ youth internally. Simultaneously, the division will lead a team of multi-agency stakeholders to participate in the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice Reform’s Supporting System-involved LGBTQ Youth Certificate Program. That project will help us create opportunities to formalize cross-system responses for LGBTQ+ youth. In all, there are ten areas where we will use the trauma and resiliency framework to strengthen our agency’s ability to empower and uplift LGBTQ+ youth.  

My hope is that by focusing on uplifting, empowering, supporting and affirming LGBTQ+ youth, we can learn lessons about the holistic needs of young people.  

What’s your biggest motivation right now?  

We’re in this moment of crisis [with COVID-19], and we have an opportunity to liberate ourselves from the circumstances that got us into the crisis or to become further entrenched in them. I’m afraid that what we’re seeing right now is we’re becoming further entrenched in oppressive systems. We’re seeing that black and brown people are dying at higher rates than non-black and brown people. When you stop to think of the implications of that, elders are dyingleaving youth with fewer mentors and supportive guardians; we’re likely entering into a recession that would likely result in more survival crimes; we’ve seen an exponential increase in domestic violence.  

COVID-19 is disproportionately negatively impacting communities of color far beyond physical health outcomes, and we won’t be able to arrest, adjudicate, or incarcerate the trauma and economic impact of this moment away. Now is an opportunity to confront the fact that punitive responses to actions rooted in resource deprivation or trauma do not promote community safety; we have to recognize that community safety comes from healing on both an individual and community level. We can create a different future post COVID-19, one that centralizes restorative responses, that invests in community resources, that prioritizes holistic—mind, body, and financialwellbeing; one that truly uplifts community safety.   

 What’s your dream youth justice vision?  

My dream youth justice vision is my biggest motivation: one that truly uplifts holistic community well-being, and disentangles our definition of justice from punishment, instead recognizing that true justice occurs with accountability, empowerment, and healing.  

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