Five years ago, Lawanda Ravoira had some big news. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center was soon opening its doors to provide a platform to effectively address the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system, and to advance their rights through a lasting reform model. The new President and CEO was excited, but nervous to be embarking on such a meaningful journey. To center herself before her announcement, she turned to the reason behind her work.
When Ravoira arrived at the Duval Detention Center that morning, she was met by a security guard singing a praise song that she recalled from her childhood. The man smiled when he told her that he had been working at the Detention Center for 15 years, and told her without a shadow of a doubt that to better the lives of girls, “We have to change the heart of our community.”
Today, the mission of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is to do just that. It is the stories of girls that lie at the heart of what we do, and it is the stories of girls that motivate us to continuously implement change in the community. Through our four pillars of research, direct service, training and advocacy, we walk alongside girls to rectify harmful practices and policies that result in their disparate treatment.
On that day, Ravoira met with a group of girls at the Detention Center. Initially, they were guarded. But one by one, they opened up and shared their stories. Facia wanted to be a nurse, striving to one day provide care to others at St. Vincent’s hospital. But, she said, “No one thinks I can.” Latoya, a 15-year-old, was at the facility due to a violation of her probation. But, no one wanted to hear her side of the story. Mia, through shy and thoughtful words, shared that she wanted to open a group home. She wanted a place where girls could live if they were kicked out: girls like “me.” And Marie, who was escorted out by guards, returned to the group just as Ravoira was leaving. “I wasn’t trying to be rude,” she said, before courageously taking the time to express her story. Marie’s public defender was trying to stop her from being waived into the adult system. She was first placed in a lock-up program at age 13, and then was able to come home for four years. But, she was experiencing trouble in traditional school, and had taken a test to be placed in a special institution. She was so excited about this new opportunity, and she told all her classmates and friends how well she thought she performed. When she didn’t pass the exam, she was ridiculed and ostracized. As a result of failures in the education system to recognize Marie’s lived experiences, she stole a car and ran away.
It is these stories, and the stories of the over 1800 girls that the Policy Center has served in its five years, that remind us why our work is so important, and inspire us to continue implementing necessary reform in the juvenile justice system. When we listen to the stories of girls and look at systemic issues through their lens, we can see how the systems in place have failed them. The shortest bridge between two people is their story, and by hearing the stories of girls and valuing them as the experts of their own lives, we are able to change the laws to directly benefit them and their needs. When we listen, we see the girl.
To help us celebrate our fifth birthday, we ask you to raise awareness about girls impacted by the juvenile justice system. Consider gathering friends and colleagues for a “Meet the Girl” event where the Policy Center staff will share about our work. For your birthday this year, host a Facebook fundraiser to benefit the Policy Center, or sign up to participate in the MOO-VE IT 5k on March 3rd with proceeds
going to the Policy Center. Lastly, we welcome financial contributions on our website, at www.seethegirl.org/donate. Thank you for your generosity, and thank you for seeing the girl.