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What the YJLI 10-Year Reunion Means

November 29, 2021
Valerie Salazar

Graphic image with collagre of photos from Youth Justice Leadership Institute

In September of 2019, I boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. for the very first in person meeting for the NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute’s (YJLI) 2019-2020 Cohort. I was excited, nervous, anxious, and grateful to be walking into this space. Within the first 24 hours of our retreat, I realized I was a part of something very special and would be forever bonded to the other members of my cohort.
Each year, YJLI brings together a cohort averaging 10 fellows who are “boots on the ground” advocates and organizers of color trying to bring positive change to the youth legal system and its effects on our communities. We participate in this year-long program that, through various activities, teaches us how to be effective in our advocacy, empowers us as leaders, and helps us achieve the confidence that is needed to advance meaningful system reforms. 

2021 marks YJLI’s 10th year anniversary, and YJLI alumni from across the country are preparing to celebrate this milestone in December. A 10-year YJLI reunion means around 100 leaders who have graduated from this program and are able to network together to support and continue the work on a national level. 

This work is tiring. It’s exhausting. Just when you feel like you’re making headway, there’s a setback and you feel completely deflated. Knowing I’m connected to this network of passionate changemakers refuels and inspires me every time I feel hopeless or discouraged and gives me that drive to keep going. Reconnecting with my cohort and being in a space with other fellows to discuss work being done and get inspired is everything. 

There is also something cathartic to my young teenage self that spent time locked in jail cells knowing that because of the efforts of a group like this, hopefully one day other teenagers won’t be subjected to the trauma carceral systems inflict. 

In the words of other YJLI fellows:

"YJLI was a life-changing experience for me. I was able to connect with Black advocates and advocates of color about my experiences and visions for youth justice that made me feel seen, understood. Our work together made these visions seem all the more possible." – Jenn Ubiera

“To me, the YJLI Reunion offers a chance to celebrate and check in with one another to see how everyone is actually doing beyond our work. I am also excited to hopefully meet fellows from other years and to see my people. I also think the reunion gives us an opportunity to remember who we are, where we have been, and to be inspired for the future, whatever our paths may be.” – Maria Leon

And from Tracey Tucker, NJJN’s YJLI Coordinator:
“The Youth Justice Leadership Institute means the world to me. The program has created a community for advocates to be themselves, discuss the challenges and joys of this work, and develop their leadership in a nurturing environment. I’m so excited about the ten-year reunion because it will offer the opportunity for alumni to reconnect, discuss our commitments to the work and each other, and envision the future of our program and how we continue to develop powerful leaders. I’m hoping as many alumni as possible will attend.” – Tracey Tucker 

NJJN is thrilled to celebrate the Youth Justice Leadership Institute's 10th year anniversary and reunion for YJLI alumni on December 2nd and 3rd. We celebrate all of our YJLI cohorts and look forward to reuniting with you! For more information about the Youth Justice Leadership Institute or the 10-year reunion, contact Tracey Tucker at tucker@njjn.org.

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