Pass the Mic Series: Social & Justice Systems

By: Zaharra, a 13-year-old


  • Youth-Nex recently hosted their 8th conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency, co-chaired by Drs. Wintre Foxworth Johnson and Nancy Deutsch.
  • In this Pass the Mic blog series, we are highlighting each of the sessions from the conference, sharing videos, and uplifting youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
  • Zaharra, a 13-year old youth panelist and conference attendee, summarizes and reflects on the second session about “Social and Justice Systems.”
Source: Youth-Nex

During session 2 at the conference, we heard from moderator Joanna Lee Williams, Ph.D, and panelists Chidi Jenkins, Renee Spencer, Andy Block, and Sage Williams. This panel focused on child well-being and how to respond to the needs of youth in our community. I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to watch and listen to this panel live. 

The Panelists

Sage Williams talks about his unique experience at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center and how he worked as the president of the Student Government Association. Briefly after, a new community treatment model was implemented and it helped to foster rapport. Andy Block was the one who came up with the idea, and it is a unique perspective to see them both successful and on a panel together. Renee Spencer is a youth mentor, previous social worker, and is focused on building youth relationships; she is passionate about the Youth Initiative Mentoring program. Lastly, Chidi Jenkins works with Youth-Nex as well as a policy program that focuses on child well-being; she has helped to lead discussions around what is being talked about on this panel. 

Their Discussion

Sage Williams has the unique perspective of someone that has experienced what it was like on both sides of the spectrum–knowing what it felt like to be isolated and then the change of the policy within the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. He represents the positive effects of engaging with youth and building relationships. 

Andy Block is an exact representation of what it means to break out a box that shouldn’t be there. What I mean by that is people get stuck in their ways, which is understandable, but what he had to do was challenge that. By taking a risk he changed the system and helped to save lives; this is what educators and other people should be doing when building relationships. 

Renee Spencer talks about the institutional structures that we have created that devalue or denigrate youth relationships. Being human to children and not isolating them is considered “soft” is really perpetuating toxic relationships. She reminds us of something she learned in graduate school about resilience.

Young people who have safe, supportive, nurturing relationships are bound to succeed.

This is a privilege. Even having this type of relationship allows youth to re-approach negative experiences in a positive way. 

Source: Youth-Nex

Did you miss one of our six sessions from the Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency conference? Go back and watch these panels with youth voices, and read the summaries, primarily written by the youth participants, on the following topics:

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Zaharra is a thirteen-year-old attending Renaissance School. She is an activist, musician, athlete, artist, and writer. As an Ethiopian-Italian-American, Zaharra has learned to embrace her culture. Throughout her life in Charlottesville, she has experienced microaggressions and racism; this has helped her to acquire the skills to educate those who are uneducated, and fighting against bias inside and out of the school systems is her focus. Zaharra’s recent involvements include having two films, that she collaborated on, shown in the Youth Film Festival ’22, one of them winning the Audience Choice Award. During the ’21-’22 Renaissance School awards ceremony she was awarded the Doc Wilbur as an Eighth-grader, and she has also participated in numerous endeavors such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Teen Stylin’ Event in 2022 and being a Panelist at a Virginia Humanities conference in 2022.

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