Justice Ambassadors

Justice Ambassadors Youth Council

Justice Ambassadors Youth Council (JAYC) is a platform for 18 to 24 year olds, who have been previously justice- involved and youth residing in New York City, to participate in an eight week, structured classroom setting with city officials to hold conversations about challenging community issues, including racial inequality, poverty, trauma, and to co-develop policy proposals. Members are offered a way to directly engage in shaping educational, employment, housing, and community policies that impact them and their communities.  

The program goals for participants are:

  • Personal Change: Members complete a 3-5 page statement that identifies an aspect of themselves they wish to improve and change
  • Community Change: Youth conduct group presentations at NYC youth centers to advocate for community change and individual accountability
  • Social Change: Students and city officials develop co-authored policy proposals to improve adverse social conditions. In sum, the Justice Ambassadors build on the leadership skills of previously disenfranchised youth and provide them with the opportunity to become drivers of democratic change within their community. 

JAYC empowers youth through leadership development and providing them with the space to reshape the very systems that often fail them and their communities. Participants develop a framework to begin their work as the future leaders of New York City. Currently, no other platform exists where young citizens meet regularly with city officials leading agencies that have the ability to positively redirect the lives of vulnerable youth before they enter the criminal justice system. By bridging the gap between these agencies and the youth that they intend to serve, JAYC fosters community engagement in a way that shows promising signs for future inclusion of directly affected populations in the process of writing the policy that affects their communities.

JAYC youth present at a meeting

JAYC was developed by a formerly incarcerated staff member, Jarrell Daniels, an Open Society Youth Activist Fellow, Annie E. Casey Youth Advisory Council Member, and a Mellon-funded Justice-in-Education scholar. Jarrell was inspired to create the Justice Ambassadors Youth Council after spending time in a classroom alongside prosecutors during his time in Queensboro Correctional Facility. As he discussed in his recently aired TED Talk, it was through this experience that he came to believe that, “through education we will arrive at a truth that is inclusive and unites us in pursuit of justice."

Justice Ambassadors Participants pose for picture at program graduation

The first cohort of JAYC ran from April to June 2019, concluding with a Grand Summit in which eleven youth Justice Ambassadors (Junior Ambassadors) and twelve city officials (Senior Ambassadors) presented policy proposals they developed alongside one another. Delivering the keynote speech at the event, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance lauded Justice Ambassadors as a program that empowers the city’s youth to become leaders in their communities and provides the opportunity for city officials to engage with and learn from the youth that they serve.

For more information contact Jarrell Daniels at jd3516@columbia.edu.