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  • Writer's pictureNBWJI Staff

Schools Can Become Safe Spaces For Black Girls To Learn, Heal And Thrive

NBWJI President Uplifts FreedomWork to Protect Black Girls in Newly Released TED Talk

Today, the National Black Women’s Justice Institute announces the release of its president and co - founder, Dr. Monique W. Morris’ TED Talk: Education is Freedom Work. The talk, delivered to a sold-out audience at the TEDWomen Conference last November, is especially timely as Dr. Morris discusses why schools must be safe spaces for Black girls to learn, heal and thrive.

View the TED Talk here:

“On the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must remember his message of love as a core demand of justice,” says Dr. Morris. “It extends to our ongoing work to create learning conditions for young people that provide them with safe spaces to become skilled critical thinkers and to develop character traits that best serve them and our families, communities, and institutions.”

In the talk, Dr. Morris explains why and how schools can interrupt (rather than facilitate) pathways to criminalization for Black girls and become locations for empowerment and healing. For girls, education is a critical protective factor against involvement with the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Their educational pathways to confinement are varied and often connected to their histories of victimization and exploitation.

Across the United States, and in other parts of the world, Black girls remain disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion and harm – subjected to predatory behavior and other forms of violence that prevent them from realizing their educational goals.

According to the 2018 School Discipline Data for Girls of Color in U.S. Schools, Black girls account for about 15 percent of the population and about 50 percent of out of school suspensions. Often, Black girls are being punished for how they look, dress, and speak – not because of a threat they pose to the safety of the school.

“We must do better,” states Dr. Morris. “Collectively, we can shift the narrative about what is possible.”

There is encouraging news. There is an emergent community of educators and advocates in schools and districts across the nation producing learning environments that acknowledge and invest in the positive potential of Black girls. Next Monday, January 21, 2019, the National Black Women Justice Institute will launch the #FreedomWork Campaign, a social media campaign to amplify these models, best practices and stories from people, schools and organizations working to improve the educational outcomes of Black girls.

One of the programs participating in the #FreedomWork Campaign is EMERGE, a pilot program for girls and young women in Alameda County, ages 16-18, who are returning to school from a condition of confinement or incarceration. It uses a healing-informed, strengths-based, gender-responsive continuum of learning for girls while being responsive to girls’ learning objectives and career goals. EMERGE is #FreedomWork because it liberates our girls to engage in their own education and realize their own brilliance,” states Celsa L. Snead, J.D., M.P.P., executive director of The Mentoring Center.

The #FreedomWork Campaign aims to amplify more of these promising stories.

“Highlighting the practices that dismantle the conditions that leave Black girls vulnerable to school pushout is necessary,” says Aishatu Yusuf, NBWJI Senior Policy Fellow for Reentry and Education. “Amplifying the alternatives to punitive practices provides the public with tangible examples of what is possible.”

To learn more about the #FreedomWork Campaign, visit and follow the campaign on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Monique W. Morris, Ed.D., please contact Nicole E. Kenney at (215) 833 – 0678 or at


The National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) is a leading research, training, and technical assistance provider to public agencies, institutions, and foundations on countering the criminalization of Black women and girls. NBWJI works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement and advocating for informed and effective policies. We conduct research, evaluation, and technical assistance from an intersectional lens that centers race/ethnicity and gender as well as gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation/identity for participants, staff, and partners organizations/individuals.

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