Ypsilanti teen DaQuann Harrison plans to run for the Ypsilanti school board, a step he sees as the first of many in his goal to improve Ypsilanti’s inner-city community. He is focused on the concept dubbed the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’, a system he describes as a common trap that targets inner-city children.
“The school-to-prison pipeline forces kids, especially black children, into the criminal justice system,” he says. Excessive penal disciplinary policies force “the schools to keep punished children out of school and, as for me, or for people I know, you are left for the school day in a single parent environment without the parent. Kids usually turn to the streets for fun. This, in turn, results in kids doing drugs, or committing criminal acts, and eventually getting caught in the system.”
Suspensions lead to students missing out on crucial learning
Harrison, now a political science major at Washtenaw Community College, has, himself, spent time in the system, and admits he oftentimes found trouble traveling between out-of-school suspensions and different legal difficulties.
“I was expelled and I went through this system,” he says. “When I began to become educated on what the system actually was, I saw I didn’t reach the prison part of it yet, but I went through juvenile systems. When you’re not in school, you’re not being taught. Therefore, the only thing you know is the streets. You’re being self-educated (and) you miss a lot of stuff you need to know.”
Negative impacts of standardized testing
When talking about issues plaguing students and the school system in general, Harrison says schools are being hurt by the pressures of standardized testing. This pressure, and the performance of students on those tests, ultimately has a large impact on school funding.
“Teachers come to school to teach, but they can’t teach because our fundamentals are so down because students are always being prepared for tests, which is the way our schools are being funded,” Harrison explains. “If students can’t pass the test then there’s no money coming into the school. This means there are teachers who don’t have enough time to educate our young people on important things [not on the tests] that they don’t know.”
Harrison describes the reliance on testing and the school-to-prison pipeline as “a system designed to target inner-city kids.” He believes community involvement is necessary to end the continuous funneling of youth into the juvenile justice system. For him, the bigger picture is about more than just schools.
“I don’t like to call it the school-to-prison pipeline,” he says. “I like to call it the community-to-prison pipeline system because I feel like the schools are a part of our community and we’re not doing enough. Our churches aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, our parents don’t have the necessary resources to do what they’re supposed to do, our law enforcement system isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Our community is the reason why younger people are doing what they’re doing.”
Harrison suggests starting with improving relationships within the community. “We have this beautiful flower that we want to see grow, which is our educational system. But the root of that flower is our relationships. So without the relationships we have nothing, we need the trust, the communication, the honesty and so forth. I feel that it is imperative that our churches are more involved with our youth. These community leaders need to be more involved, and really our political leaders who we elect to office, they should come to help out too. You really only see our leaders come out and do things when it’s time to vote around November.”
It’s all about heart
Harrison began his community involvement by working as a Youth Liaison in close proximity to the Ypsilanti’s sheriff’s office and Juvenile Detention Center. He also serves as a member of several Michigan based-organizations that look to influence school-community involvement, including the Washtenaw County School-Justice Partnership Organization (attendancematters.weebly.com) and the Juvenile Justice Board (michigan.gov/mdhhs).
“My heart is in their hands,” he says of the Ypsilanti community he hopes will vote for him in November. “This isn’t for play, this isn’t a front or for pay. I really desire to better this community. No matter how far this goes, or how far God takes me, my heart is the community. Most things I do, I won’t get paid for, I’m doing this because of the passion.”