As the nation took to the streets last summer to protest racial injustice, we knew we had to do more—that we all had to do more. We’d been working since 2018 with Community Passageways, a local organization committed to breaking the school-to-prison cycle with a school-to-life pathway. We started a fundraiser for them and kicked it off with $45,000 in matching funds. So many of you and so many of our partners responded, and we raised more than $153,000. Now, to honor Black History Month, we are giving away $2,500 each week to a different local organization in appreciation of the important contributions they’ve made to our community.
This week’s check is going to Creative Justice, an innovative arts organization that helps court-involved youth find their voice, connect with community, and stay out of the criminal justice system. Creative Justice is led by co-directors, Nikkita Oliver, a community organizer and attorney, and Aaron Counts, a writer, educator and counselor.
“We have seen the research that shows locking a kid up for a crime doesn’t make the community safer, and it actually does the opposite of that,” said Counts. “It further isolates those young people that are more vulnerable and pushes them away from the safety net that a strong and supportive community can provide.”
Started in 2015, Creative Justice was developed by 4Culture, the King County cultural funding agency, and a cohort of community partners. They offer arts instruction for court-involved youth with an agreement with the King County Prosecutor’s Office that their teaching and the youth’s creative work can be used in mitigating any active court case the youth may be facing. In this way, Creative Justice asks our justice system to view our youth through a wider lens and to celebrate the strengths and creativity of young people navigating a complex world.
Creative Justice holds several 12 to 16-week sessions each year. Participants meet as a group twice a week with an experienced mentor artist, always starting with a shared meal. They develop artistic skills, engage in learning rooted in principles of anti-racism and social justice, build social skills and positive behaviors, and ultimately collaborate to produce community-based events where they share their creativity, vision, and new abilities.
Participants receive community service hours in addition to other benefits such as help paying court fines and the opportunity for judges and prosecutors to consider the youth’s experience with Creative Justice as a mitigating factor when weighing the charges against them. This can result in reduced community service hours, early probation termination, a reduction in charges, or even a full dismissal of the charges.
At Pagliacci, we are proud to support Creative Justice in its mission to build community with youth most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. The healing spaces they create to teach life-skills through art change young lives and help bend that long arc of the moral universe in the direction of justice.