Mar. 8, 2023 9:33 am

Empowering Healing and Growth: Create Safe Spaces for Young People

One youth advocate's plea to disrupt systems of harm

still image from video by Jacob Lund, used via a Creative Commons license

This guest column was written by Jared Cooper, Youth Advocate, Juvenile Law Center

My name is Jared Cooper. I was arrested and thrown into the criminal justice system at 18 years old. Through fighting for my life and freedom, I was able to break the shackles that so effortlessly tried to hold me back. Now, my primary focus in life is health and wellness, and I currently do restorative work with a nonprofit organization, Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YSAP) and advocacy work as a member of Advocates for Youth Justice with Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program.

YASP is an organization working to end the practice of trying and incarcerating young people as adults and instead create a world without youth incarceration. The Youth Advocacy Program at Juvenile Law Center provides youth with system involvement the opportunity to develop, propose, and advocate for effective solutions to longstanding systemic problems.

One youth-driven advocacy effort I have been involved with for awhile is the Youth Participatory Defense Hub through YSAP. The HUB for short is a community organizing model that supports young people and their families as they navigate the criminal justice system.

HUB focuses on 4 main things:

  • Systems education which is teaching young people and their families about how to navigate the criminal justice system and specifically walking them through each process, what to expect, and how to prepare for upcoming court dates.
  • Court support which is actually showing up for the young person and their families in court and writing letters on the young people’s behalf.
  • Resource advocacy, which can range from connecting a young person to a job, to things like mental health support and therapy.
  • Lastly, we create something for young people called social bio videos and social bio packets which show the judge who the young person truly is as opposed to being judged based on a crime that was said to be committed.

Being a young person directly impacted by the criminal justice system allows me to truly understand and be receptive to the ongoing issues surrounding criminal justice inside and    outside Philadelphia. Being from Philadelphia, I believe it’s a city most impacted by our one sided criminal system. For youth who have had experience in systems, we see how harmful they are to children and how they break apart communities.

Youth leadership and youth serving organizations should always put youth at the front of the change and allow for their ideas to lead advocacy efforts.

I have the highest gratitude for the programs that took me in, supported and cared for me the way any and all young people should be. They gave me a home, unlimited support, and allocation to resources to help me thrive and grow despite my ongoing circumstances. They allowed me to truly heal from my past trauma, and find myself, and my passion as a youth and community leader in and outside of Philadelphia, through my social media, public speaking engagements and sharing my written testimonies, like this one.

From our Partners

Youth need organizations to care and support them the way all young people should be cared for and supported.

Youth need a safe home, unlimited support and resources to grow and thrive despite ongoing circumstances filled with adversity.

Organizations need to help young people heal from trauma and find themselves through allowing them to find their passions in safe supportive environments.

They need to teach youth what leadership means and how to make their way into these roles. 

No young person is a monster, an animal or a threat to society. Everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone deserves to feel and receive unconditional love and support as we trudge through this mud called life. We are all human. We all have different experiences. Love is a continuous state, it is rare but I truly believe we need love to help us come together to fight against adversity. Love trumps all. I believe if we give more care as opposed to control we will slowly, but surely make the world a better place. I can share personally based on my own experiences and the shared experiences of others, that this is what youth want.

Every kid wants to be loved and cared for. Programs should keep this at the front of their minds, and allow this to drive the program at its core, then it will serve to uplift youth and their voices.


What organizations providing solutions that empower and heal underserved youth?
In what ways should our government, businesses, foundations, and nonprofits support youth in our communities?
What solutions do you have?

Share your thoughts here!


From our Partners

Solutions at the Intersection: Lessons Beyond Philadelphia

Standing in the Gaps

Tokenism: The State of Youth Leadership in Philadelphia


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