I draw attention to this same issue on my webpage, and I will keep drawing attention to it. Juvenile offenders include children who are 10-14 years old. Ten years old. My absolutely beloved and adored nephew, Jordon, is almost 10 years old. My mind is not able to contemplate the magnitude of injury perpetrated against kids forced into detention at this young age. Despite the juvenile justice system handling some of our country's most vulnerable populations, the juvenile justice system remains the most secretive, hidden, covered-up tragedy of the 20th and 21st centuries. We owe it to society to let our research and inquiries take us there, to shine a bright impenetrable light on all that is concealed there however unimaginable, to uncover what is happening to targeted youth populations, and to put all our efforts behind destroying the school-to-prison pipeline.
What does this have to do with children's books? Well a lot of things, really. Right now, we live in a time when there are not many stories illustrating children of color doing the same things that white children do, even though, children of color are just as interested in the latest technology, the greatest science fiction story, the chance to travel and to go on adventures, the knowledge they gain at home and at school, the time to create original works of art, the ability to play in parks and to wander in nature preserves, and ultimately, the chance they may get to reach for and create a better future for all of us.
Despite these universally shared interests and the reality that children of color and families of color make up more than 40% (and growing) of our country's population, people of color remain mostly invisible as protagonists in stories -- news stories, history stories, and fiction stories. So schools, that have taught stories, starting at a very young age, that elevate white characters and either criminalize or leave out characters of color, overwhelmingly normalize whiteness as the best and the most likely to succeed. Developmentally, however, all children want to and do identify with the protagonist, the hero, or the heroine, even when the protagonist is white and the child is not. Each child wants to be the hero of their own story. And so if we change our schools and our publishing companies so the books made available equally represent white and non-white characters, we have a chance to educate future teachers, police officers, lawyers, and judges who may one day hold the fate of the next generation in their hands and instead of sending youth offenders off to indefinite incarceration, will instead put all the force of a real justice system behind rehabilitating that young person so they may never meet in court again. And by doing that, we can possibly -- hopefully -- create a more compassionate, caring, accepting justice system that works toward restoration and rehabilitation, that focuses on the individual rather than the cost, and that sees the worth of every human life and fights to set it on a stronger course. This can be done. This must be done.
There is a tremendous need for scholarship to expand the bodies of literature exemplifying collaborative work between lawyers and teachers; civil rights experts and teachers; politicians and teachers; and all activists and teachers, including teacher activists who want to participate in change. We have so much to learn from each other if we are willing to step beyond that which has also been normalized in the academy and plot our own paths to justice. This means imagining new methodologies and new theories, it means scrutinizing the past and bringing it into contact with what's happening right now, and it means forming partnerships with unlikely allies.