FFLIC knows that when we stand for youth together, we win together. We know these unfair and punishing systems can make anyone feel alone and helpless, but with FFLIC no one is alone in the fight to end youth incarceration. Behind every child that is kept out of the youth incarceration system, there is a community that shows up for all kids to have unconditional love. From the capitol steps to the classroom, every win is because of people power and familial love. Cheronda, a mother and member of our Lafayette chapter, is full of fierce and tireless love for her son, which helped her yearslong fight to keep him in school. But it wasn’t until she got involved with FFLIC, and its network of advocacy and support, that she was finally able to keep her son in school and see him thrive.
When Cheronda was displaced from her Lake Charles home after a storm, her son was 12 years old and had to start in a new school. She knew that it might be a difficult transition for her son since he has disabilities and now was in a different school. “The first two years we were here it was extremely hard for him to adjust,” she said. But Cheronda was determined to help him get established in his new school, so she set up meetings to talk with the teachers. “I explained to them when we first got here, what he was diagnosed with, what he could possibly do, and what they could do to try to work with him,” she said, but soon “it was a phone call every day.”
Cheronda had been working with him to develop coping skills and she said she taught him “to go outside, breathe a little bit and come back. Channel that anger then come back.” This was an effective tool for her son, so she advocated for him to be able to use it in school. She told the teacher that he should be able to step away and get some air to manage his emotions. But the school was always calling her anyway to say that he was walking out. She said, “they are not hearing what he has going on.”
“When he got to junior high, it got worse,” Cheronda said. Again, she tried talking to his teachers to let them know what was going on with her son’s disorders and how they could help him. But again they didn’t listen to her. “The teachers either they’re not equipped for that or they don’t want to deal with that,” she said. Instead they punished her son with state referrals, giving him over 10 suspensions for taking too long in the bathroom and not tucking his shirt in. “It’s like they just targeted my son,” she said.
Eventually they pushed him out to an alternative school where he was supposed to stay for 30 days. When Cheronda’s truck needed repair and she couldn’t get him there, they kept adding days for each one he had to miss. “That was so much stress. I broke down. I couldn’t even go to work going to court fighting this” she said. When they tried to expel her son, Cheronda reached out to Jennifer, FFLIC’s Lafayette Chapter Leader, to connect with a FFLIC advocate. Together she and the advocate went to the school to fight the expulsion and won, and the next day her son was back in classes. “Honestly, I feel like if I didn’t have FFLIC I wouldn’t know where my son would be,” Cheronda said.
Cheronda’s son is still in school and she has seen a huge difference in him since people have shown up to give support. “He gets so excited because it shows him someone cares,” she said. Cheronda says her son is “doing a lot better,” but she is still advocating to have more counselors for kids with challenges in school and working with FFLIC so all kids can have support too.
As we reflect on 20 years of the advocacy wins that have uplifted systems of support that let kids grow, learn, and thrive, we honor the people and the love that sustains our work. Since its founding, FFLIC has shown how strong we are when we come together to work alongside families to create a world without youth incarceration. From the closing of Tallulah Youth Correctional Facility in 2004 to the legislative gains, and for every child who is kept youth out of punishing systems, it’s people power and love that always win.