Louisiana ranks near the bottom in high school graduation rates, but it has the highest incarceration rates in the United States. Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, or FFLIC, sees the troubling correlation between these issues and works to stop it.
As stated on their website, their mission is to “create a better life for all children in Louisiana, especially those involved in, or targeted by, the juvenile justice system.” As a grassroots membership-based organization, they strive to “transform the systems that put children at risk of prison.” They also provide support to children that have gone to prison and to their families. In their fight for self-determination and justice, FFLIC promotes solidarity and collective action as their most powerful tools.
The urgent need for an organization like FFLIC came from parents wanting to change the system, not just get help for their children. FFLIC was born in 2000 in the Baton Rouge, home of Ms. Earnestine Williams. A few parents came together to support each other and share stories of outrage and fear regarding their children who were entangled in the state’s brutal juvenile justice system.
Since FFLIC decided to settle in New Orleans, chapters have replicated across Louisiana. The victims of Louisiana’s juvenile justice system are not just the children, but also their families. With the help of FFLIC, the victims’ voices and firsthand accounts added to the struggle unlike ever before. FFLIC’s first major political accomplishment occurred in May 2003, when their campaign to close the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth succeeded.
The current work of FFLIC includes campaigns for transformative leadership development, juvenile justice reform and stopping the School to Prison Pipeline. FFLIC believes that in order to ignite change, they must transform their people to be empowered and loving. Their transformative leadership development moves people through the phases of development that ignite and facilitate transformation.
FFLIC provides training for families and community members, providing them with the tools necessary to successfully advocate for all children, and to develop campaigns that will transform the oppressive systems. FFLIC also works to make sure that the goals of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act are met. They regularly meet with the Office of Juvenile Justice, and monitor the work of the Juvenile Justice Implementation Committee. This committee has been ineffective thus far.
According to their website, FFLIC defines the School to Prison Pipeline as “the systematic and institutional approach to depriving poor people of color a right to an equitable and quality education.” With unjust suspensions and expulsions, high-stakes testing, consistent lack of resources, denial of special education services, lowered expectations, and zero tolerance policies, schools deny kids their right to quality education. In doing this, schools funnel low-income youth of color into the criminal justice system. FFLIC’s campaign to stop the School to Prison Pipeline trains parents to advocate for their children, and aims to keep kids off the streets and in school, where they belong.
Black Man Rising, one of the organizations stemming from FFLIC, is working with at-risk young men in the New Orleans area. Derek Brumfield, one of the founding members of Black Man Rising, spoke with us about the organization. Their motto, Brumfield states, is to “encourage young men of color to determine, reach, and excel in their own personal vision of success.” He includes, “it’s rewarding to help young people get on their paths and maybe chose an alternative to something that would be negative.” Black Man Rising, the name stemming from the poem by James H. Chapman, is a movement. Their goal is to expand to multiple cities, far beyond New Orleans. Derek’s personal goal is to reach 500,000 young men of color.
At FFLIC’s Tribunal – Crisis in Education held in October this year, Black Man Rising performed their famous Black Man Rising skit. [See the video here.]
We also spoke with Ashana Bigard who serves as a consultant with FFLIC. She has been working with FFLIC since around 2003, and she previously served as the primary organizer with the organization from 2009-2010.
Early on, Ashana played a primary role in the “Close Tallulah Campaign,” which was a notorious campaign to shut down a youth prison in Northern Louisiana. The Close Tallulah Campaign created a movement where communities of parents and advocates used their voices to demand politicians to close a youth prison.
Ashana’s involvement with FFLIC has a lot to do with her advocacy work and cases, specifically working with the people who are being directly affected. She states that the most rewarding thing about working with FFLIC is “the relationship with parents” that she has built and the “opportunity to go into leadership roles.” Ashana recalls a case she worked directly with where it involved a father who was advocating for his son, and through that he became a primary organizer and community leader within his community. “When I see people who are natural advocates and natural leaders become stronger advocates for juvenile justice and education, I feel like that’s one of the things that makes me proud and gives me hope.” With the mission of FFLIC being to “create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system,” Ashana maintains the mindset that “parents and community members are their own experts.”
Most of the people who work with and are involved with FFLIC are impacted by the problem directly, and it’s important to give them a voice and a space to tell their own truths. Ashana’s approach to social justice work is very inclusive in the sense that she believes that “together we can change things being that we organize from the ground up to create policies and laws, we pay attention to what people are saying and doing on the ground, and that the majority of us have skin in the game. Most of us are the people impacted by the problem directly.” As for the future for FFLIC, Ashana wants to see FFLIC one day grow into a national organization, being that FFLIC is a statewide organization the possibility of having chapters in every parish would be possible through funding. Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children is an organization that Mrs.Bigard seems to be incredibly passionate about; with the mission and the beliefs of this organization, it really strives to truly help those who have been failed by this system we are meant to rely on.