Broken He Is Not - Albert Woodfox

"He was stripped down to his skin
Given clothes that weren’t his
Stamped with a number in the place of his name
But it didn’t break him

With the slamming sound of metal hitting metal
Came the silence, so loud that it could drown out the sound of your own thoughts
But still ... it didn’t break him

Though his movements are slower
his smile is still quick to come and his laugh fills the empty spaces left by pain
And yet still, broken he is not."

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting across the table from Albert Woodfox -- I never in my life thought I would meet him,  let alone he would be free of the man-made restrictions imposed on him for the last 40 years. Yet still,  I found myself throwing loving insults to try and distract him from crushing me in a game of dominoes. I'm pretty sure it was the over achiever in me, that thought it was a good idea to challenge him in the first place -- considering I had  only just learned how to play a few months prior and the person who taught me, neglected to mention, that there were many versions of the game and many ways to get my ass handed to me.

But the winner in me wouldn't allow me to back out, so over multiple games of dominos (most of which I lost) we talked. At a table, over soup and fuit, at one end sat my friend/coworker Jasmine, me at another and Albert sitting in between us. We found ourselves debating the meaning of love, the passing of time and self-care. I remember leaving that interaction humbled and so full of hope, not only for Albert but for other people who had their lives taken under the false pretense of rehabilitation.

Albert Woodfox, Robert King and Herman Wallace are known as the Angola Three. I first learn of them after receiving a copy of "Sieze The Time" by Bobby Seale in my senior year of high school. After reading about the Black Pantners for the first time, I started doing my own research. Who were they, what did they want and the means in which they went about accomplishing their goals?

After hours reading about them in my local library, you know back when libraries used to be pretty cool, I came across the story of the Angola Three. Fast forward more than 10 years later, I was able to join a community of people at Amnesty International, mostly led by my friend Jasmine, who was fighting to free the last of the Angola Three still behind bars. By this time, Albert (68 years old) had spent 40 years in solitary confinement, in six-by-nine foot cell with little to no human interactions. Albert is thought to hold the record for the longest serving time in solitary confinement, a title, I'm sure he doesn't want.

The United States of America far short when upholding human rights, especially in cases of solitary confinement. Across the USA, more than 80,000 people are being held in solitary confinement. Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has said that holding anyone in solitary confinement in excess of 15 days amounts to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and can rise to the level of torture. Under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, for which the USA is a party to, broadly bans cruel treatment for anyone -- regardless of the circumstances. Which raise the question, is the United States in violation of international law?

I come from communities where men, women and children return... not from war but just as devastating. Some return, with vacant eyes and broken spirits. Other return hopeful, most inmates will never be "lucky" as Albert to finally regain control over their own mobility but after meeting him, Robert and Herman, I'm confident they will continue to fight for improving prison conditions and ending solitary confinement everywhere.

So while prison may have taken his freedom for 40 years, it didn't diminish his quest for justice-- it only removed the chains placed on a sleeping lion.


When 30,000 people a year in this country die at the barrel of a gun, and millions more are unable to live their lives free of fear for their personal safety and security, this isn’t just an emergence; it’s a human rights crisis.

Last year, members of the House and the Senate made a number of bold gestures against the scourge of gun violence in the United States. This is more than just an emergency.

But while filibusters and sit-ins may help center attention on the issue and move the dialogue along, what is needed are comprehensive measures that effectively limit access to guns for those with a history of violence. Universal background checks can keep guns out of the hands of those with such records, including people who’ve committed domestic abuse, or who have mental illness that poses a threat to others.

But instead of background checks, members of Congress decided to focused on two sets of measures: terrorism watchlist-based gun control and sweeping surveillance powers for the FBI. At best these are distractions; at worst, they are empty gestures that co-opt public concern over gun violence. Whatever the intentions of the proposals, they are wrong: They implicitly make gun violence about a slice of the population – scapegoating American Muslims in the process – rather than addressing gun violence as a large-scale crisis requiring system-wide solutions.

Members of Congress supportive of the watchlist legislation pose it as the common sense fix to gun violence. But the slogan “no fly, no buy” ignores the reality: The government’s watchlists are seriously flawed. In 2014, the government disclosed that it had added 1.5 million names to its terrorism watchlist over the past five years. One former FBI agent told “The Intercept” that the watchlist system was “revving out of control.” A system this expansive should have strong safeguards to protect due process and ensure people can be removed from the list if they prove error. The no-fly list, which is the focus of some of the proposed legislation, does not.

Another distraction from background checks, are proposals to expand FBI suspicion less surveillance. Members of Congress, including those who oppose gun control, are pushing expansion of Patriot Act provisions that allow the FBI to secretly gain access to information about Internet browsing and emails without a court order. They are implying, without much in the way of facts, that greater power would have enabled the FBI to prevent the Orlando shooting. These proposals are akin to telling national security officials they should assemble more haystacks, rather than get better at locating the proverbial needles. In some cases, they’re also a blatant attempt to blunt public outrage and redirect it – so that gun violence does not lead to gun control reform.

Gun violence in the United States will not be solved by throwing marginalized groups under the bus to manufacture the appearance of progress. What is needed is bipartisan comprehensive legislation that addresses the current faulty patchwork of federal, state and local laws that so far have failed to protect anyone from the threat of gun violence. Although it’s unlikely that you – President-elect Trump, will push for the reform we need It’s important for you to recognize that the victims, survivors and our allies will not be silenced, we will continue to fight, to ensure that the United States; lives up to its obligations to protect it’s citizens. It does not serve any of us to respond to gun violence in this country as anything less than the human rights crisis that it is.

Young People Are Ready To Lead: The Education We Want – Global Goals

For three years, I had the pleasure and honor of working alongside 17 amazing young people who were appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Youth Advocacy Group (YAG). Our goals have been centered on GEFI’s three main priorities: putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning, and fostering global citizenship. Through this opportunity, we have been able to connect with both adult and youth leaders all over the world. If there is one thing that remains constant, it is that no educational agenda can be conceived, implemented, monitored, or reviewed without the authentic engagement of young people.

While this generation is internet savvy, socially conscious, and world- changing; everywhere you look, young people are struggling with the political, social, and economic constraints left by our predecessors. As a result of those constraints, the world is faced with nearly 58 million primary school age children out of school. Furthermore, there are 250 million children and young people who are in school but are not learning. With the expiration date for the Millennium Development Goals right around the corner, young people everywhere are calling on world leaders, governments, civil society, and the global communities for change. In order to prevent the largest generation of young people in human history from eventually being exposed to massive unemployment, poor health, and potential civil unrest, there are necessary things that must be done.

Active Role of Youth

The fact that every day a child is potentially turned away or pushed out of school should motivate us to act in a way that allows all stakeholders, especially young people, to play an active role. Too often, young people are left out of the decision-making process of the educational agenda, even though they are closest to the issue and have the most at stake.

During the time I’ve worked on this issue, I have met young people who are urgently and desperately fighting for their place at the table, mostly because they know that not doing so will potentially have adverse impacts on their hope for a positive and rewarding future. The creation of the YAG enabled young people from all walks of life, cultures, religions, and gender to work in collaboration for the youth whose voices had been silenced and forgotten.

The YAG is but one example; there are young people everywhere who want to get engaged in this issue and have their voices heard. This is why the YAG, in partnership with Plan International and A World at School, created The Education We Want: Youth Advocacy Toolkit last year. The toolkit has one goal: to empower young people to be able to advocate for change so that all members of the younger generation can have access to quality education.

To create change, we need all hands on deck. As the new education agenda is being developed, young people need to take up an active role. This is why we have been taking steps to make sure every child is ready to fight for the education they want and deserve.

To date, we have hosted over 100 educational training programmes worldwide and have trained thousands of young people. This is because we believe that if given the chance, young people will not only be ready to work, but also lead the change.

In an effort to expand the progress made by the Millennium Development Goals, last year the United Nations launched the global goals for sustainable development. Out of all the goals that could have been selected, 17 were chosen with the intention of not leaving anyone out. Over the next 15 years, the world will race against the clock to be the first generation to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change. It’s important to note, that these efforts are going to take more than just policy and budget line items. Instead, it will take all 7billion of us to learn about the goals, teach is other about the goals and doing our individual parts to make sure 15 years from now, we aren’t discussing all the things we wish, we could have done.

As a part of the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), Youth Advocacy Group, I was able to participate at the GEFI’S High Level event to help deliver the global youth call to action, which ask governments to take a hard look at the last 15 years for to identify lessons learned and what proactive steps need to take place to move us from promises to progress, especially when it come to children ability to learn. Learning the Lessons: From Promises to Progress (Call to Action), were developed and received input from young people all over the world, outlines the urgent steps governments must take if we are to have any chance of achieving SDG4 by 2030. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done but if we are willing to hold both governments and ourselves accountability, it can be done. So ask yourself, are you in and what goal(s) are you planning on working on? 

To learn more about the call to action and ways to get engaged, please click: HERE

Seeking Self- Preservation 2017
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde

Through the course of my childhood, my mother birth 11 children. By the time I came along, I already had 5 (actually 10 when you include my five older brothers on my father side.) protectors, in the form of my older brothers… isn’t that every girl’s dream? If so, it wasn’t mine, to say my older brothers were extremely protective of me — might be an understatement. I could barely sit outside on our porch, without one or more of my brothers lurking in the background. Even at age five, my brother’s behavior drove me to become very independent. There wasn’t anything, I thought I couldn’t do and if my brothers were good at something, I wanted to be better.

After me, my mother had five more children — three boys and two girls, which made me the typical middle child.  In a household overflowing with testosterone, I found myself struggling to be heard, to be seen. So I did everything I could to stand out, which included over committing myself … (something I still wrestle with) and overlooking my own self-care, to take care of everyone else.

Stepping in to help care for my younger sibling was both a necessity and something I thrived in doing. For the mornings my mother didn’t make it home, it was my job to make breakfast and ensure those who were old enough to go to school … did and if they weren’t, I missed school to stay behind. For most of my childhood, I didn’t really mind taking care of my younger brothers and sisters because it gave me control, at a time when I felt so helpless to the conditions around me.

It wasn’t until recently when I realized how so much of my childhood had carried on into my adult life. Most of the time, I still feel like I’m shouting into rooms filled with the egos of men, as they “pat” me on the head while saying “You’re too young to know anything of substance”. But the biggest baggage I carried around with me, was my inability to put myself first. There were times, when I got so consumed by work I would sometimes forget to eat or I would sacrifice doing something personal in order to ensure others had what they needed.

Two years ago, I relocated to Washington, DC … I had a much needed “come to Jesus moment”. I was tired of lying to myself and people around me, when it was asked “how I are doing” and of course my response was “I’m great”. I wasn’t great, I was over trying to save everyone but myself. I was finally ready to put my self first. So what did I do?

  •  I stop saying “yes” to things I didn’t want to do
  • I created short and long term goals… with me at the center
  •  I starting building better relationships with my siblings, that wasn’t based on what I could do for them
  •  I was finally honest with myself about what made me happy
  •  I eliminated people from my life, who were just taking up space
  •  I started taking care of my health, including working out and eating better.

Now I won’t pretend any of this was easy, last thing I wanted to do was hurt anyone or make them think I didn’t care. But after having some tough conversations, the people who understood and supported my decisions were the ones worth keeping around.

So if there is one thing I’ve learned is, no one is going to save you but you. Be your own hero … first.

Asia David
Authentic Youth Engagement

Over the last few months, more than 60 percent of all of my group chats consist of friends and colleagues analyzing the 2016 election, bashing the tactics and feeling insulting most of the time; when media and politicians try to define our generation without actually engaging us.  Now engagement for some can mean many different things but as someone whose always worked at the intersection of youth and policy reform. I can tell you, talking “AT” young people will get your nowhere.


So why does it matter?

Currently, there is nearly 48 million young people ages 18-29 years old who are eligible to vote (no shade to the seniors who only come in at 39 million eligible voters). Youth also makes up 29% of the overall US voting block and as I mentioned in a previous post, the power of that vote can’t be overlooked. Especially since, youth played a major role (2008 and 2012) in helping to elect President Obama and had only millennials voted in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton would be President.


If politicians, non-profits, and corporations are really serious about engaging youth and millennials, lip service will no longer do. To authentically engage this socially conscious and politically active population, please keep the following in mind:


1  “See me” and “Hear me”: It’s important to recognize that young people have the need to be seen as active contributors in society. To build a strong relationship with a foundation of trust, there needs to be authentic recognition of what we can do, rather than being tokenized when we’re the only young person in the room. 

2  “Meet us where we are”: Often when youth are asked to show up in places and spaces that were never meant for them, it’s always at the expensive of the youth. Unfortunately, that prevents many young people from representing their interest. All opportunities should be easily accessible and the approaches towards working with us, should be responsive to our diverse needs.

3  “We can share the baton”: Shared leadership is so necessary, young people usually thrive in a context where collaborations with other young people and adults are fostered. Understanding that all parties can learn something from each other is key. Creating an environment for everyone to share best practices, providing inspiration and support, enables a better working environment. 


“With leadership, comes accountability":

When I worked at the Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission, I made a practice of never promising anything to young people,  without everyone having outlets for accountability. Leaders must ensure that there are provisions of systematic and structured processes where young people can hold government leaders accountable to their promises and commitments.

Millennials/YouthAsia David

The images are at once heartbreaking and enraging. A 15-year-old boy breaks down into sobs as his mother praise the virtues of his dead father. A woman bearing witness to the murder of her partner being forced to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of unspeakable horror for the sake of her safety and that of her young daughter.


These images make us both witnesses and voyeurs to a particular kind of pain being experienced all too frequently by black families across the country. The families of known and the unknown victims are not only mourning the devastating loss of a loved one, but dreading the idea that no one will be held accountable for their deaths.


Given the lack of convictions in cases involving killings by police, their fears may be well founded. Laws governing when police can use lethal force are inconsistent from state to state, and are often so broad and permissive that law enforcement officers can find justification for using lethal force, regardless of the actual danger posed.


Police have a right to protect themselves and a duty to protect the public. But they must carry out their duties in a way that respects the rights of everyone regardless of their race, gender, or past criminal history. No one should fear that any interaction with the officers sworn to protect him or her could result in their name becoming a hashtag. And officers deserve clear training on how to deescalate confrontations and prevent unnecessary use of force.


With the laws the way they are, no state or federal investigations nor any kind of indictment will stop police killings from occurring. Which is why we need reforms at the city, state and federal levels, and we need them now.


In a survey of state laws that Amnesty International conducted in 2015, they found that not one state has laws that meet international standards on the use of lethal force. And those standards are more than reasonable: Police can only use lethal force as a last resort when faced with the imminent threat of death or serious injury.


The report found that not only do U.S. laws fall short of international standards; they also fail to comply with the U.S. Constitution. Nine states and the District of Columbia have no lethal force laws whatsoever. The patchwork of laws results in a lack of clarity as to what circumstances warrant lethal force.


Is it the presence of a firearm? In the majority of states, it’s perfectly legal to carry a gun, with or without a license, so that alone can’t justify using lethal force.


Is it the fact that a suspect is fleeing? Supreme Court precedent states that police cannot use lethal force to stop a suspect from escaping if they are not dangerous, so again, that alone shouldn’t be a justification, although 13 states have laws that do not even meet this standard.


Other laws allow for deadly force to be used to “suppress opposition to an arrest;” to arrest someone for a “suspected felony;” to “suppress a riot or mutiny;” or for certain crimes such as burglary. In some jurisdictions, private citizens may be allowed to use lethal force if they are carrying out law enforcement activities.


The lack of any clear standard leaves most of these life-or-death decisions to the interpretation of officers. And this means that prejudice and stereotypes can lead to racial bias when it comes to determining who is – and who is not – a threat. While no official data on police killings exist – which in itself is troubling and must be addressed – what little data exists suggests that black men pay a disproportionate price as long as the guidelines for lethal force are so permissive. The black population of the U.S. is 13 percent, but makes up 25.5 percent of those killed by law enforcement using firearms.


Reform is needed immediately. It is imperative that a national task force be assembled to review existing laws regarding lethal force to ensure that it is only used as a last resort in the face of grave danger. Inadequate state laws must be brought in line with international standards, and all states must require training in the use of lethal force. Shockingly, only two states – Georgia and Tennessee – currently have laws on the books requiring training.


That is unacceptable — both for the communities and the officers entrusted to protect them. Consider our currently political environment, I doubt Congress will make any substantial reform. That’s why it’s even more important for states and cities to do what they can, to ensure everyone is safe and not just the selected few.