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The Path Less Walked – The Journey to Justice by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa

Unapologetically seeking justice and joy with and for girls and gender-expansive young people is what drives our work as a 139-year-old national intergenerational multiracial/ethnic advocacy organization. Girls* Justice Week resonates with the heart of who we are and what we do. We advance social, economic and political equity to ensure that girls and gender-expansive young people can live unapologetic lives without fear of violence or injustice – this is youth justice. More specifically, we work collaboratively to address the broken and siloed systems that disproportionately impact young people of color. We are intentionally intergenerational because the experiences, wisdom and leadership of girls and gender-expansive young people must be at the forefront and centered in our efforts to achieve lasting authentic transformative change across society and all of its systems. Intergenerational collaboration that centers youth leadership is critical to constructing and ensuring an enduring movement for gender justice that can withstand the test of time.

In May of 2022, National Crittenton released the report, At the Forefront: The Experiences of Girls, Young Women and Gender-Expansive Youth of Color as they Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic and Social Uprising. This report is the product of intergenerational solidarity and collaboration that would not have been possible without the leadership of the 18 In Solidarity Youth Fellows from across the country who led work organizing and facilitating conversations, analyzing data, and curating the report. The report opens with a call to action issued by one of the fellows, Chloe Williams.

Without an audience, or a call to action outside of oneself, some things challenge our integrity by simply posing the question …, “Am I doing the right thing?” Most often, this introspective query meets us in the face of adversity, … at the crossroads of instant gratification and long term satisfaction. … Instant gratification manifests as convenience, the path of ease. Instant gratification … prompts us to be … self-serving, it entices us with a clear path to greener grass, so long as one does not look back and see the collateral damage of their decision. Long term satisfaction often presents itself as a challenge, it urges us to … face a problem head on. Long term satisfaction requires one to think of … others, facing obstacles and strategizing to overcome them. This is, for obvious reasons, the path less walked.

Chloe’s words demand that each of us interrogate ourselves to push beyond self-interest, easy answers and short-term solutions. She calls us out on the “collateral damage” of the actions taken to seek instant gratification for our efforts. As a society, we focus on instant gratification and no place is this more clear than in our youth legal system – known as the juvenile justice system. We have chosen to lock up generations of young people rather than invest in building ecosystems of support for families. We have chosen to ignore the root causes of what has happened to them and instead focused on “what they did” without considering the context of their lives and without admitting that they have little control, if any, over that context. For girls, particularly those of color, we have in the past simply made them invisible.

Privilege makes it possible for many people to fool themselves into believing that what they do not see they are not accountable for addressing–this is the ultimate act of instant gratification and the root of our broken systems and social, economic and political injustice. Chloe closes with this:

“We challenge you to understand the problems in our systems and structures and face them head on. It is our hope that it leads you to meet us on the path less walked, so we can heal with equity… and start to make our way home.”

At National Crittenton we are doubling down on our efforts to ensure that we travel with young leaders on the path less walked. For Girls* Justice Week, honor girls and gender-expansive young people by asking yourself what road you are traveling and why. We hope to see you on the path less walked.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa

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