New York’s Moves on Free College Tuition and the #RaiseTheAge Movement: Kalief Browder’s Legacy and Statewide Progress in spite of Trump

I am a proud New Yorker.  However, when I heard that the majority of my home county (and a good portion of my state) voted for Trump, I found myself severely disappointed.  I thought I lived in a pretty progressive area surrounded by pretty progressive people.  I guess that’s another area where teenage narcissism kind of bites you in the ass, huh?  You have no idea what people around you are really like.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 9.00.12 PM.pngHowever, New York’s response after the election inspired me. They did, on multiple occasions, make public stands against the monster-in-chief and his hateful followers.  They took a stand against Trump’s xenophobia on multiple occasions using multiple platforms.  Cuomo issued a clear statement reminding the nation that New York has and always will be a refuge for ALL people, in spite of the bigotry that is infiltrating the most powerful levels of our government.

New York (along with our West coast sister, California) is setting an incredible example for the rest of the country to follow.  And it seems that we are just getting started.  I want to use today’s post to highlight two major developments from the last few weeks.

  1.  New York decided to raise the age.  This means that individuals under the age of 18 cannot be tried as adults.  In other words, children will no longer be sent to adult prisons, where they are often victimized and end up leaving with varying forms of PTSD and adult criminal records.   Why is this important?  Well, it begins to level the playing field.  Minority children are much more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.   From there, they are much more likely to be tried as adults.  Given that these children are already disproportionately targeted, putting this protection in place could ensure that the results of this don’t result in adult criminal convictions or time spent in adult institutions.  The school to prison pipeline fills adult prisons with young, children of color to perpetuate what we now know is modern day slavery.  Families are torn apart.  Lives are ruined.  And the reality is, systemic racism and oppression against people of color shoulder much (if not all) of this blame.
  2. New York decided to provide free tuition to low-and-middle-income students. 20110525-sbu_graduation28.jpg  Students must maintain good standing and agree to stay in NY for 4 years after graduation, but if they do, their entire tuition is covered.  This is amazing.  I know entirely too many people who couldn’t attend college because it simply cost too much.  Families living at or below the poverty line saw higher education as a pipe-dream luxury, but now, it can be a reality.  And given that class and race are inextricably linked in this country, this also disproportionately impacted students of color.  This move can have a significant impact on closing the wage and achievement gap between youth/young adults of color and their white counterparts.

Essentially, what is happening here, is that New York is taking steps to level the playing field for people of color and impoverished people within the state.  With legislation like this, kids like Kalief Browder have a shot at the American Dream, which,  for the most part, has really only been attainable for white people.

141006_r25549-800.jpgDon’t know who Kalief Browder is?  Do some research.  I could spend thousands of words on the story of this young man and still not do him or the injustices he suffered any justice at all.  This 16-year old kid, who was racially profiled and arrested by the police, spent 3 years in an adult prison without ever being tried for the crime of which he was accused: stealing a backpack.  Why did he spend all this time in jail?  Our justice system exploits the poor.  His family couldn’t afford his bail, so instead of going home to finish school or go to college, he spent time being brutalized in an adult prison by both guards and inmates.  He endured over 400 days of solitary confinement, a torture particularly harmful when applied to young people.  After 3 years, the state released him and dropped the charges; they never had a case.  But the damage was deep and it was done.  Browder later committed suicide, stating he just couldn’t live anymore after enduring the horrors he faced in Rikers.  I have to believe that stories like his played a great role in the progress we are seeing in New York today.  We are forever indebted to Mr. Browder.  His story, along with others, has highlighted just how flawed our system is.

Of course, there are people who will complain about NYS raising the age and offering free tuition.  I’ll let you guess who ::insert eyeroll emoji here::.  But the reality is that this is a step in the right direction.  And for those who are complaining that graduates have to stay in New York, please stop.  I think that’s a perfectly fair stipulation.  Give back to the community that gave you a chance.

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And if you are interested in helping to push for continued change in our criminal justice system (you should be), please consider participating with and/or donating to the following organizations:

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Sentencing Project

Free Minds Book Club (Donate Books!)

The Bronx Freedom Fund


Stop Solitary for Kids

The Innocence Project


Juvenile Law Center

Color of Change

Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship Fund (this scholarship is still helpful, even with the new tuition assistance plan!)

Also please watch:

13th (available on Netflix)

Time: The Kalief Browder Story (I don’t know where to find this for free. I’ll keep looking and update once I do.)

And please listen to this.

New York is trying to start the process of making things right.  I understand that this is a monumental task that will take decades, if not centuries, but NY is setting the tone for progress in a way that I can be proud to stand behind.  So, to the other states of this very broken union, take notes.  And to people in other states who are hoping to see similar changes, pressure your state government.  Donate to the orgs listed above.  Get active and resist Trump.  Just because your state sided with hatred instead of progress does not mean that you have to.  Silence in times of injustice has always been violence, so don’t fall into that trap.  Don’t let your privilege blind you; we are all responsible for the Kalief Browders of our world.  We are all responsible for ensuring that our young people, regardless of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status, have an equal shot at success.  Do the work.  Make the sacrifice.  Resist.


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