Kelaiah Thomas and Orion Klassen, BMC ’25

Advancing Racial Justice (Praxis II)

Fieldwork With the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project

Semester: Fall 2022

Course Instructor: Darlyne Bailey

Field Site: Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project (YASP)

Field Supervisor: Gabby Jackson

Praxis Poster:

YASP Hub_Poster_Final


Further Context and Reflections (Orion Klassen):

This semester, I worked with my classmate Kelaiah on the Youth Art and
Self-Empowerment Project. This Philadelphia-based community organization is dedicated to ending youth incarceration and the trial of minors as adults. It dreams of major prison reform and its practices are based on transformative and restorative justice, as opposed to the standard incarceration punishments.

The part of YASP that I mainly worked with was the Youth Hub Fellowship
program. The Hub Fellowship consists of workshops to improve lifelong skills among the fellows in the form of weekly meetings, usually on Thursday afternoons. Examples of skills learned and practiced in these workshops are Active listening, Crisis De-escalation, and Mindfulness. The Hub Fellowship is paid and is 6 to 12 months in length. All participants of the Hub have been impacted directly by the carceral system. The Hub Fellows also facilitate the Participatory Defense Hub, with guidance from full-time staff, and this helps them use some of these skills in real-time. The Hub promotes healing and resiliency and creates a confidential
space for participants to grow and learn.

One of the readings we found that really impacted our work was “Racism in the United States” by Miller and Garren. Different organizations can be discriminatory, non-discriminatory, and antiracist. YASP is an antiracist organization which is evident from their lack of a strict hierarchal structure, inclusiveness of every member, openness to differences, active effort in criminal justice reformation, and close proximity to the community with which they are working.

Some of the things I learned while I was working with YASP are to let go of what you think you know. “What’s said here stays here, what’s learned here leaves here” was a phrase that we opened many of our meetings with and I think it’s a great way to recognize how everything can and should be a learning opportunity. And finally, flexibility, adaptability, and open-mindedness are essential for doing work like this. Things might not always go as planned and sometimes things have to change, so you have to be ready to go with the flow when things aren’t exactly what you expect them to be.

Thank you to Dr. Bailey, Sarah, Gwenn, Lisa, and Gabby Jackson for all of your work and guidance during the duration of this course.


Further Context and Reflections (Kelaiah Thomas):

Hello! My name is Kelaiah Thomas and I am a sophomore at Haverford College. I plan on declaring my major next semester in Religion but I am undecided about a minor. I initially decided to take a Praxis course in order to gain familiarity with the surrounding area, particularly Philadelphia, and push myself out of my comfort zone to achieve personal growth. I chose the Advancing Racial Justice course because I want to be able to recognize any occurrences of racial injustice done unto me or another person and gain the skills needed to educate the offending person/people with the goal of keeping it from happening again. I also want to apply what I learned in class to real-world situations. Becoming knowledgeable of how racism impacts every aspect of life including from the smallest of communities to the biggest of institutions is the first step in working towards undoing the harmful work that has been and continues to be done.

This semester, I have had the opportunity to work with the organization, Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project (YASP). YASP’s mission is to end the trying and incarceration of youth through work in the criminal justice system, community building, and support. They embody the phrase “power in numbers” as their emphasis on community allows for a strong foundation in which trust and dependency are present among the staff, youth, and families that are involved with this organization. My partner and I, Orion Klassen, were involved with one project of YASP, called the Hub. This involved going to the Participatory Defense Hub each week to go over youth cases and provide support in various ways. Throughout the course, I’ve experienced taking on a role for the Hub, writing a letter of support for one of the youth, attending a staff meeting, and attending a prep meeting for the Hub Fellowship. I’ve read and watched many materials relating to the Hub and gained insight into the structure of YASP including the reasoning behind some of the aspects that they have and the values that they emphasize.

Overall, my time at YASP has been quite an experience. The staff and youth that I met were all so welcoming and I could easily see the trust and respect that everyone has for each other. I’m left with a highly appreciative feeling for being allowed to be part of an organization that is doing such important work but I’m also left with a sense of wishing that I could have done more. One semester isn’t nearly long enough to encompass the full scope of what YASP does but I’m so grateful to have been able to help in any way. I can confidently say that I have grown in ways that I didn’t expect to. Becoming closely acquainted with being uncomfortable and encountering situations in which communication and help were needed has taught me to reflect on both my actions and reactions. I am now more confident that I can react logically to uncomfortable circumstances, initiate communication, and request help when required.

Special thanks are given to the YASP community, particularly my field supervisor, Gabby Jackson, the Advancing Racial Justice team including Darlyne Bailey, Lisa Armstrong, Gwenn Prinbeck, and Sarah Spath, and the rest of the course participants for being part of my growth this semester, I appreciate all the help and knowledge I have received these past months.