Meet NBWJI’s New Executive Director, Dr. Sydney McKinney
This past April, NBWJI announced Dr. Sydney McKinney as its new Executive Director and NBWJI president and co-founder Dr. Monique W. Morris’s transition to the chair of NBWJI’s Board of Directors. “I’m thrilled that Dr. McKinney will continue the work we’ve been building over the past five years,” said outgoing president and NBWJI Chairman, Dr. Monique W. Morris. Dr. McKinney, who formerly served as NBWJI's Acting Executive Director, brings nearly 15 years of experience, a strong commitment to public service, justice reform, and expertise in using research to advocate for our most vulnerable youth, families, and communities. A seasoned leader and expert in child welfare and justice system reform, Dr. McKinney shares what excites her most about this role, her vision for NBWJI, and how you can expect to continue to see NBWJI leading research and conversations on system-impacted Black women and girls in the future.
What most excites you about this role?
Dr. Sydney McKinney (SM): As a Black woman and a criminologist, I am keenly aware of the gaps in our knowledge about “what works” for system-impacted women and girls. And NBWJI is primed to become a national leader in the field, conducting research and elevating the experience and leadership within our community in order to transform the landscape of opportunities for Black women and girls. Generally, when people in the field ask, “What works?” they are referring to interventions and policies that deter delinquency and crime. However, for me “what works” has a more expansive meaning: more than just crime prevention, at its core it is a question about what it takes to bring about individual and community healing, health, and repair. That is our mission at NBWJI: we are committed to engaging in work that promotes healing-centered justice and lifts the veil that allows our society to ignore the institutionalized harm that Black women and girls continue to endure. The mission and promise of this organization are what excite me most about assuming the role as executive director.
Is there a framework that guides how you approach the work?
SM: Back when I was a graduate student first getting started in this work, I had the great privilege of studying with Dr. Mindy Fullilove. She taught me that you can’t conduct research in a vacuum. Individuals and events are in a constant, dynamic interplay with their environment and the broader ecosystem. Therefore, to understand what is happening within an individual, organization, or situation that arises, you have to understand how it is connected to the place, people, institutions, and world around it, and how those factors in turn exert their influence. This is the lens through which I view all of my work, and I believe it is a critical perspective for shifting policy and practice.
What issues are you particularly passionate about?
SM: Prior to joining NBWJI, I worked at a large social service agency serving vulnerable new yorkers, including families impacted by the child welfare system. Seeing first-hand the intersection between child welfare and juvenile justice was disheartening. These are our most vulnerable children, and they have experienced trauma that few of us can even comprehend. The fact that they are disproportionately represented among youth in our juvenile justice system and are, therefore, at risk of experiencing further harm while in confinement is repugnant. Dismantling the foster care-to-confinement pathway is vital to keeping these youth safe from experiencing additional undue trauma and pain.
Advancing economic justice for Black women and girls who have experienced incarceration is also important work that NBWJI will continue to do more of in the future. Formerly incarcerated Black women carry the greatest economic burdens of incarceration; they have the highest unemployment rate of any other segment of the U.S. population. Addressing the economic precarity facing system-impacted women and girls has not garnered the national attention that it deserves, and it is more important now than ever that we take this issue head on as the country responds to the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What can we expect from NBWJI in the future?
SM: Research and partnership are two of our core principles. As we move forward, we will deepen our work in these areas, in particular by working collaboratively with system-impacted Black women and girls to engage in action-oriented research that moves us closer to a criminal-legal system that prioritizes healing over punishment.
To learn more about NBWJI, visit www.nbwji.org.