Watching young people have 'a-ha' moments, be able to communicate their experiences, and having space to be affirmed as experts in their experience—it's an honor to witness it.
Jennelle Ramdeen is a social justice educator, youth worker, and activist. They have been at the Center for Court Innovation since 2018 and currently serve as program associate of the Youth Justice Board.
The Board provides high school youth with fellowships to research and advocate on public policy issues that directly impact them. This year, the Board is studying how to maintain the safety and dignity of LGBTQ+ youth involved in city systems—schools, foster care, and juvenile justice.
Jennelle facilitates programming to teach youth “how to think critically, make connections, [and] have the tools to analyze and be responsible researchers." To do this, they develop curriculum and anti-oppression training with the aim of helping Youth Justice Board participants understand identity, power, oppression, and privilege. In practice, this means providing tools and holding space. In addition to their work with the Board, Jennelle works with other Center staff on Pride Pact, building LGBTQ+ youth programming across the Center, increasing inclusivity, and providing supportive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth activists.
Jennelle's roots in youth work run deep. They began their career at the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, an afterschool and summer social justice program for girls and gender variant youth. "Social justice education has a really big place in my heart. Watching young people have 'a-ha' moments, be able to communicate their experiences, and having space to be affirmed as experts in their experience—it's an honor to witness it.”
In all of their work, Jennelle centers young people as experts. “Young people have more sense, I trust my young people more than I trust most adults, because they can see things for what they are. Their connection to humanity is very present, and they are in a place of wanting to learn. There is so much that we can learn from young people."
Coming to the Center as a youth worker, Jennelle has been surprised by how much they enjoy research. “That surprised me. I really love this process of exploration and inquiry.” Sometimes policy research and youth advocacy can lead to difficult moments. As Jennelle notes, “If our young people are going to do honest work, they are going to communicate a critique of something that causes harm.” But that is a core component of the work—respecting young people as experts and listening to what they have to say.
Going forward, Jennelle would like to see the Center expand their youth research work “to create a pipeline for community members to be the foundation in our work, research, and solutions.” Reflecting on the challenges of their job, they note that, “all youth work is complicated because our lives are complicated.” But ultimately, Jennelle adds, “young people bring a hope, they bring a joy. It's just so satisfying. It makes all the hard work worth it."