Home News Center YJLI Fellow LaTrisha Gandy Helps Communities Find Their Power

YJLI Fellow LaTrisha Gandy Helps Communities Find Their Power

April 28, 2022
Courtney M. McSwain

LaTrisha Gandy, She/Her
Community Organizer, YJLI Fellow 2021-2022

What got you into youth justice advocacy

My family has been
impacted by the system since I was 11 years old. My late uncle and my mother, who are both deceased, both went through incarceration, and it has been heavy on my heart all these years to identify what we, as a community, can do. I didn't [always] know that we had the power within our voices that we do. In 2018, my son faced the judicial system, and I started to advocate on his behalf. I started volunteering in communities to raise awareness around the judicial system and how families are highly impacted, especially when we aren't aware of how the system works. I started with the Metropolitan Congregations United's Breaking the Pipeline campaign as a parent organizer. Sometimes we always look for support in the justice system, but we are advocates and activists right in the community, and we are unaware of it. We have to get out there and educate our community and our families.

When you talked about initially not realizing the power you had, what helped you find that power? 

I was going through my walk with my son, who was facing some high charges, and as a parent, I realized that I could go into the courtroom and take my child home; he never spent a day in detention. As a mother fighting for my son, I realized the power that families have.   

I always tell my son that he is so blessed because most children don't walk away from what we were facing. That's the type of power I want other parents to have – to feel empowered to go into a courtroom and say, "My child is better off at home, and these are the things that I know I can put in place for him or her" and walk their child out. That is very powerful.  

Could you tell me about your advocacy project? 

My advocacy project focuses on the automatic expungement of youth records. That's one of the issues we're working on here in Missouri to get youth records automatically expunged at 18. Parents are often unaware that their child's records can be sealed or expunged or the process to get this done. So, we're pushing for automatic expungement at the judicial system level. The parents and children have been through enough. If the charges can be sealed and expunged, do it automatically, and every six months, show an audit to the community.   

What motivates you?  

I love children. I love to see them smile and hear their laughter. I have 11 nieces and nephews around me, and I was a basketball coach at one point in time. It gives me love to see smiling faces. As a community organizer, I see myself giving hope back to a dying community. I see it when people realize that we do have hope – that motivates me.   

What's your dream youth justice vision? 

I have big dreams of making changes in communities so that we all know people worldwide are working to build the same kind of power that we are at home. That's one of the things that I love about YJLI – knowing that through the different organizations within NJJN, we are connected and can tap into people across the country.   

So, the dream I envision is that we continue to come together and force this movement - that we all stay connected and build one another up.   

Why do you think creating spaces for leaders of color to come together and build relationships is important? 

As leaders [of color], we can sometimes be in a room and feel so left behind. Spaces like YJLI give us room to vocalize and feel safe to be vulnerable. We need spaces that provide room for people of color who often feel pushed away so that we can be that safety net for one another. This space has been so welcoming, loving and patient. In other spaces, we're not told "it's alright" or "take your time; the work is here, and you are valuable to this work." 

>>Read more about our YJLI 2021-22 Cohort

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