Louisiana kid goes viral with project on ‘School to Prison Pipeline’

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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

Jalen Kennedy

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About Author

Ro Wright is the Co-Owner of Unboxed Possibilities. He and his wife, Sandria Wright, live in New Orleans and they are the founders of the Black Boot Network.

32 comments

  • Congratulations Jahlen, you are the reasonour ancestors ever exsisted. The struggle continues with your contributionand the many souls you influence. Peaceand Blessings to you and your entire family!
  • Wonderful that someone so young is taking an interest, and helping others do the same. But I do think it should be pointed out that the idea of prisons using reading comprehension in 3rd graders to project prison needs is a myth. Both factcheck.org and the washington post have debunked it, and I'm sure others have too.It's important we don't let misinformation cloud the issue, even if it is for "our side".
  • years ahead of even the masses!! Great job young man! Don't stop sharing the message with your friends too!!! They will one day draw upon the knowledge you shared with them and hopefully it will empower them. 
  • Very impressive!  This young man is destined for something great.  His insight, critical thinking skills, and engagement will only grow as he matures. Well done Jalen, your parents, and all of your mentors.  I look forward to seeing where your talents lead you!
  • Wow this is more reasons to pray young life who god hand pick to make a difference in this world. My brother keep moving forward its the Lord using you in all this. You are being lifted before the father in Heaven right now.
  • Great report, very weighty for a sixth grader.  However, I saw nothing in the news article that indicates you researched the why of black men repeat offenders or any race repeat offenders for that matter.  You can't make a sweeping indictment without taking into account the fact that some offenders just commit crimes because that are intrinsically bad, character wise.  That applies to all races.  Additionally, as someone who worked for the Department of Corrections for 18 years, I saw many offenders be released and go right back out and commit a crime while on parole, wanting to be  incarcerated again.  Why?  Because they had no hopes of finding a job and nowhere to go.  They at least had food and shelter within the prison walls and regardless of the scare tactics of the present, strict oversight, regulations and grievance procedures for inmates  have all but eliminated harassment by guards, etc.  The black community needs to monitor themselves to provide places and help for these inmates to go upon release.  If a black-owned business will not give a black parolee a job, who will?  If their own family and community will not give them a place to stay and a "leg-up", who will.  There are many first offenders. They become repeat offenders because they keep choosing the devil they know rather than facing an uncertain future on the outside.  
  • At a time when children are thought of, to not be credible eitnesses for themselves, this 6th grader Jalen Kennedy, is absolute proof that society is wrong. He has my approval and three thumbs up! 
  • It is great that you are concerned about social issues at your age. You missed an important statistic. Yes, 37% of prison inmates are African American while being less than 15% of the population, but commit over 50% of the crime. If they commit >50% of the crime then 37% is not a high number. Maybe your project should be aimed at reducing crime by African Americans. Good luck.
    • Wow... I need you to research again... African-Americans are incarcerated at a higher rate, but the rate of incarceration is not fully indicative of the crime rate. Why? Because many who are not African-American are not incarcerated for the crimes they committed. Jalen didn't miss the stat. He left it out because it is skewed.
    • Sure OK, AAS soon as you fix the 67% rape crimes committed by white men, the highest incidents of terrorists acts committed by white men, The highest rate of assault in minorities by white men. The highest rate of human trafficking involvement and let's not go into white men comprising the biggest number of drug users
      • Don't feed the trolls. Tomy is just here to forward his angry, fantasy based agenda. It's important to provide the fact based response Steve provided though. Thanks Steve!
      • If that's the same "Color of Crime" book that was written by Jared Taylor, you might want to get a new source. Because even his partner later refuted the book as using shotty sampling and methodology.
    • Hello Tomy. I understand how the statistics you are pointing out can lead you to believe that African Americans have high percentages of crime and therefore the focus should be on how to reduce crime among them. But one thing that is important to consider is that the numbers represent the end result, they do not explain the reality. What I mean by this is that if a group of kids is constantly perceived as having tendencies to be delinquent, they will be targeted with more control and policing. If you mix perceptions of delinquency with extensive policing the end result will be high percentages of crimes. I invite you to read the book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (New Perspectives in Crime, Deviance, and Law), it's $16.33 with amazon prime. If you don't want to buy it the you can read parts of it that are online for free. This book is a study done in Oakland, California and it further explains my point which is basically how marginalized communities and minorities are harassed, profiled, watched at a very young age even before committing any crimes. Another example I can give you that you may have heard of is the stop-and-frisk policy in New York that has cause great controversy for the practices carried out under this policy a has been determined to be unconstitutional. The stop-and-frisk was adopted to fight crime. This allows for police officers to stop anyone who they consider suspicious. The results according to NYCLU as astonishing, in the first three quarters of last year, New Yorkers were stopped 10,171 times. 76% of this stops were innocent, 54% were black, 29% were latino, 10% white. You should see the previous years down to 2003, here is the info http://www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data. Since 2003 out of all the New Yorkers that were stopped and innocent, the stops on white people never pass 12% and out of all the stops black people were stopped at least 50% of all the stops since 2003 and this is talking about innocent people. I just know a few examples but there are more examples of over criminalization and under criminalization which is associated with race, but this should get you started to see a different perspective that can explain this situation and which I hope you consider and explore. But to be honest if what I said doesn't help you see what is going on then I don't know what will.I hope I was clear and I'm definitely open to further discuss this topic. If there are any questions you may have about what I said I'm willing to answer no problem.
  • This was a well written article.  I really enjoyed it.  I am very proud of the young man in piece.  He is my grandson.  I believe he has a bright future and will do great things.

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