Does justice look like a rehabbed bus? Or a “tricked-out trash can?” These are just two of the many ideas presented by students participating in Justicefest in Louisville, KY, on Saturday, May 22. The students spent most of the school year working on creative solutions to public issues as part of a new organization called Justice Now.
“I’m here because I wanted to help the community and spark change and also become a voice for others,” said junior Adreonna Rainey from Southern High School. Adreonna and four other students from her school presented an idea for a Justice Express Bus and graphic novel series to promote equity and justice. The bus will be used to attend protests, host community events and deliver supplies to needy residents.
Another group, from the W.E.B. Dubois Academy, proposed a project to create “tricked-out trash cans,” inviting kids to put art on selected trash cans around the city to discourage littering.
Justice Now is the creation of two Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) teachers, who began work on the project last fall, leading to a formal kickoff in January. The organization brings together students from the elementary through high school levels to talk about city issues and develop solutions.
The group’s co-founders, teachers Matt Kaufmann and NyRee Clayton-Taylor, were concerned about the effects of remote learning on students and wanted to create an outlet for conversation and problem-solving. Justice Now has evolved into a hybrid approach of physical “learning hubs” and remote conversations, with more than 50 locations convening over 200 students, generally as an after-school activity.
The students have discussed a wide variety of issues, including pollution, racial justice and police-community relations. The shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville is one motivation for the conversations. Kaufmann was arrested at one point last year for participating in a protest about the shooting.
Justice Now has found support from a number of other local and national organizations and has received funding from the CARES program through a local partner. Some of these partnerships have helped integrate the arts into the group’s work, with musicians and theatre organizations adding an element that helped foster participation. The kickoff event in January featured some of these performers and included speeches by the JCPS superintendent, chief equity officer and several local and national celebrities.
Addressing the group gathered—both in person and remotely—for Justicefest, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called it a “great show of entrepreneurialism.” Many marches in Louisville during the 1960’s were led by high schoolers, he said. “And throughout history a lot of the change we look at comes from young people.”