When Nashville’s 37208 community made national headlines several years ago due to its sky-high incarceration rates, the finding was especially sobering. The North Nashville zip code was found to have the highest incarceration rate anywhere in the United States– a country that already holds the title of the most highly incarcerated nation on the planet
As Nashville’s public officials and community members alike grappled with how to handle this dismal prognosis of the state of the city, council members joined together to establish the 37208 Special Committee. The purpose of the committee is to provide recommendations for restorative justice practices that can be implemented to heal Nashville’s wounds, and create a path for a better future.
Councilman and Committee Chair Brandon Taylor believes that one of the most important steps towards providing recommendations to alleviate the crisis in 37208, is to have conversations with the people who live in the community. “Being able to hear directly from the youth about how we can execute the recommendations they offer, and help them build brighter and better futures is what is important.”
On Thursday, members of the Committee spoke with students at Pearl Cohn High School, to gain insight as it relates to the perspectives of youth living in the 37208 community. Students formed small groups in which group leaders facilitated discussions about advocacy, and accountability, as students offered up goals for the community that could be reached in 30, 60, or 90 days. The students exhibited significant commitment to taking action in order to better the community. One student boldly proclaimed– “Don’t talk about it, be about it,”– a statement meant with applause and affirmation.
Committee member Whitney Pastorek explained that the idea for getting youth engaged in these important conversations grew from discussions that took place at the 37208 Committee’s initial meeting with parents and officials about youth violence. After acknowledging the irony of talking about youth issues without talking to the youth, Whitney says, “We decided to get as many kids together as possible to have a conversation about the impact of incarceration and the vision they have for how this neighborhood can move forward.”
The students had the opportunity to share their stories in small groups, as well as provide recommendations to the committee in front of the entire group. Common themes included a desire for law enforcement officers they can relate to, and access to a recreation center where students can feel safe on weekends and after school as opposed to hanging out on the streets. One student also voiced concerns about mental health, calling for access to counselors and support, saying, “We need you to hear us.”
Pearl Cohn Principal Dr. Miriam Harrignton says these types of conversations are so important because they provide young people with the opportunity to “tell us what they think,” about all of the rapidly-occurring changes taking place in the city. “I’m hoping that the things the students say they need are actually put into place. Sometimes what we adults think are needed are actually not the right resources, and putting the right resources in the right place is extremely important.”
Councilman Taylor and Dr. Harrington left the audience with a few words of wisdom that should resonate with all of Nashville’s leaders: “This city is yours, not ours,” said Taylor, as Harrington added, “You should be consulted when decisions are made.”