When most kids are told to do Social Studies projects, they huff and puff at the sound of school work which would potentially take away their afterschool play time. That wasn’t the case for young Jalen Kennedy, a sixth grader at Morehouse Magnet School in Bastrop, LA. When Jalen received his assignment he was excited. “My family talks about these issues all the time so this would be a good opportunity to share the truth,” he said.
Kennedy submitted his study as a project in the Region 3 Social Studies Fair. His work was so well researched and presented that he won 1st Place and will use the project to compete at the Louisiana State Finals in Lake Charles in March. His project, School to Prison Pipeline: Is This The New System of Jim Crow?, touched very controversial issues which have plagued the African-American community for decades.
His research was so well constructed that his quotes and subject matter created discussions in Facebook and Twitter chatrooms. Before Kennedy and his family knew it, it was being discussed on syndicated radio shows and was even introduced nationally by Syndicated Radio Host/Comedian DL Hughley. Within two days Kennedy’s research had been shared with over 75,000 people across America.
“I was very confident I would be given proper credit for my project but I actually expected them to find something wrong with it. Most people don’t want to accept the truth about the system of racism and injustice in America,” he said.
Growing up in a very socially conscious household leaves young Jalen ostracized at times because many of his peers are not interested in these issues. His mother, Chastity Kennedy, is a member of the Morehouse Parish School Board in Bastrop, LA. His stepfather, Craig Lee, is a Community Activist in Shreveport. “We make sure our kids are well informed and engaged. Jalen is very bright but so is our daughter. They read. They teach their friends and most importantly they are not afraid to ask questions,” said Chastity Kennedy. “We know these kids are being prepared for leadership but we are even more humbled that they know and have already accepted the responsibility to build their peers,” she added.
In research for his project, Jalen says some of the information was heartbreaking even to him. “I learned that 37% of prison inmates are African American. The reason this statistic shocked me is because African-Americans represent less than 15% of the total population in America,” he said. “The government is allowing FOR-PROFIT CORPORATIONS to build and operate prisons, and they are basing the number of future prisons to build on the reading and comprehension levels of 3rd and 4th grade elementary students,” he explained.
When comparing statistics of today with statistics of the Jim Crow period, Jalen’s research proved nothing has changed. “Black people are still the number one target for discrimination and oppression in America. Most of the issues of yesterday are still critical today, like the lack of school resources for Black children, the lack of employment opportunities, and housing discrimination. It is still the same. Integration gives us the illusion that progress is being made but the system has never changed,” he says.
Many times when kids talk you can instantly tell when the child is just repeating what he has heard his parents say. However, this is no ordinary kid. “Jalen will come in the room and tell us something we didn’t even know. We find ourselves having to keep up with him at times,” said his mother.
Jalen enjoys the common pastimes of any kid his age. He loves basketball and chess but he is very interested in social studies, especially pertaining to African-Americans. However, his social interests are not accepted by hardly any of his friends. “Sometimes I try to discuss these issue with my friends. Most of them are not interested because they lack cultural enlightenment. Like my mother and step-father often tells me, the system is designed to make people not care about their own lives and communities. For example, in most Black communities there are failing schools, lack of businesses and poor health care.” He feels if this is what kids often see around them daily it becomes the root of their disinterest in their own community.
Contrary to popular opinion, Jalen says he doesn’t believe Education and Poverty are root causes for the School to Prison Pipeline in America. “The lack of Spirituality and Cultural Enlightenment are the root causes of most of the problems with black youth. His research proved another symptom is related to unjust school policies which are created by school systems. “The school policies are hard on children who lack discipline. Since most Black children, male and female, lack Cultural Enlightenment, they also lack discipline at times. When we are not disciplined to learn we are constantly being sent to the office. This is how the school to prison pipeline begins,” he explains.
He says he already has pieces of his future mapped out. Very inspired by his step-father, he has chosen to follow his path one day by attending Xavier University in New Orleans where he has already decided he will major in Psychology and Economics and he’ll minor in Marketing.
Jalen is in the Jr. Beta Club at his school and has been invited to Washington D.C. for the Junior National Young Leaders Conference this Summer. His school is the only A rated school in his entire parish and it is a majority black institution. His parents accredit the school for pushing their students to think beyond boxes.
Jalen pays attention to the progress of the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the UNCF, The Urban League and many of the national Black organizations. He says there is no doubt in his mind one day he will lead one of those organizations and if they had youth leadership boards in his town he would serve now.
“I think those organizations should talk with me and other brilliant Black students throughout America and ask us to serve on Youth Leadership Boards. Some of us are really paying attention and are eager to work. We shouldn’t have to wait ’til we are older to get involved. Our country and our community needs us now.”
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Photos/ Kita Wright