BARS BEHIND, CHANGE AHEAD

The third of five boys born to a single mother, Darryl Briggs had little adult guidance as he grew up black and poor in the Bronx – not a single counselor or teacher or coach who saw his potential or took an interest in him.

Darryl’s high-poverty high school had eight floors overflowing with 8,000 students. “There were easily 35 students in a classroom and there’s weren’t even 35 desks.” There was one lab in the entire school. The worst part for Darryl was the lack of individual attention. His classes were uninteresting and too easy. None of his teachers saw his need for academic challenges. They hardly noticed him at all. When he skipped class, no one asked why. When he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, no one told him that wasn’t a good idea.

At 15, Darryl ran away from home and dropped out of school. He was arrested for graffiti and sentenced to two months in juvenile detention. His school wouldn’t take him back and suggested he get his GED. Soon, he was arrested again, this time for stealing a cell phone. “I paid attention to the wrong things. I was applying myself on the street instead of academic achievement.”

Darryl escaped the pipeline to prison by getting involved in community organizing, finding a mentor and growing as a leader through CDF’s youth leadership training program. A friend persuaded him to come by a non-profit organization, For a Better Bronx, where he met a man who’d had similar experiences to his and became a mentor. Darryl volunteered and became the organization’s youth program coordinator.

Then Darryl linked up with CDF-New York, which led a coalition that succeeded in closing a notorious juvenile justice facility in the Bronx. He was invited to Haley Farm to participate in the Young Advocate Leadership Training and is now a YALT national trainer himself.

“The mission of YALT is to edify and organize the voice of young people. If you look throughout history, a lot of social change movements are led by youth. We want to turn their light bulbs on that, ‘Hey, we have a duty to our community and ourselves.’ We have a network around the country and we are building strength in numbers.” His personal mission of helping young black men in the juvenile justice system meshed perfectly with CDF’s campaign to dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

He got his GED, and this spring graduated from Bronx Community College. Darryl, now 23, is working on a degree in social work at Lehman College and volunteers at CDF’s New York office, organizing to raise the age of adulthood in the New York court system from 16 to 18. He’s also co-chair of a group that’s part of the Bronx clergy criminal justice roundtable.

“We’re creating a series of trainings for young people on probation to build literacy and life skills and show them how to become community organizers. We want to bring these young people into the realm of policy and show them how they can create change.”

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