Past Event

Alternatives for Youth in Trouble with the Law: Café Society with WBEZ

What is transformative justice and how can we empower diverse community members to take leadership in addressing issues faced by youth impacted by the juvenile justice system?

Join us for a special Café Society discussion with Clay Chalupa, Project NIA’s Coordinator of the Rogers Park Transformative Justice Center (RPTJC). In Swahili, NIA means ‘with purpose.’ Ultimately, the purpose for Project NIA is to prepare communities to get involved in creating an effective strategy to address violence and crime. RPTJC is an initiative that is focused on healing and strengthening individuals and communities while ensuring accountability for violence and crime.

Café Society is designed to bring friends, colleagues, neighbors, and strangers together to discuss current events and other important political and social issues. At these intimate, facilitated conversations, people are invited to engage one another in discussion from all points of view and to dig deeper into the issues at hand.

Alternatives for Youth in Trouble with the Law 

Last fall, the tragic killing of Derrion Albert, a sixteen year old student at Fenger High School in Chicago whose death was recorded on a cell phone video, captured the attention of national media and politicians. Policy makers, parents, youth, and every day people struggled to make sense of this senseless killing. The troubling but important question, “Why did Derrion die?” has inspired the work of Project NIA, a new community based organization on the north side of Chicago committed to alternate forms of justice for youth in trouble with the law.

In 2009, 52 young people in Chicago were victims of homicide, according to a report prepared by Tracy Swartz from Red Eye’s Homicide Tracker. In recent years, the US juvenile court system saw a staggering 6 in 10 recidivism rate for youth with at least one prior offence, according to 2006 statistics released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. At a time when more youth are facing incarceration, Project NIA is working to analyze the root causes of youth violence and create local solutions. Incarceration is a “non solution,” argues Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA. “It’s not by accident that we see so much violence in communities that have had huge de-industrialization, huge poverty, and amount isolation,” she said in a WBEZ interview.

Kaba believes that residents’ efforts themselves are crucial to enacting change, a belief that informs Project NIA’s mission: to cultivate a community which educates at-risk and previously incarcerated youth about accountability and conflict resolution. Initiatives such as Project NIA’s “community peacekeeping and talking circles” are intended to provide a space for youth to express their voice, a concept widely unknown to the US justice system.  “[Policymakers] don’t understand that we need to talk. They don’t understand that we need to express ourselves,” says Chicago teenager Anthony Jackson.

Dialogue and rehabilitation are the cornerstones of restorative justice, an ambitious alternative to incarceration and the philosophy behind Project NIA. In theory, youth in trouble with the law should be given an opportunity to admit responsibility, victims of crimes should be given a chance to grant forgiveness, and the community should have the opportunity to offer constructive insight. But some question whether or not this approach would keep offenders off the streets. As the saying goes, “If you do the crime, then you should do the time.” And proponents of long-term prison sentences as a remedy to crime have said that youth should receive “adult time for adult crimes.”

How can we build more peaceful communities? What are the roots of youth violent crime? If you do the crime, should you do the time? What kind of impact can peacekeeping and talking circles have within a community? How should our justice system be reformed? What are the links between poverty and crime? What about race and crime? Gender and crime? What else can be done to curb youth crime? What are other alternatives for youth in trouble with the law?

Suggested Resources

More about Clay Chalupa
Clay Chalupa is the Coordinator of the Rogers Park Transformative Justice Center. Clay has had a passion and deep involvement for social justice for many years. Her focus has been working and volunteering with agencies and people that serve and support survivors of trauma, violence, and oppression. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and was Director of Behavioral Health at American Indian Health in Uptown, Chicago. She has worked in a variety of sectors from rural communities to urban spheres to Southeast Asia.

More about Project Nia
Project NIA
helps communities develop support networks for youth who are at risk of or have already been impacted by the juvenile justice system.  Through participatory action research, community engagement, education, and capacity-building, Project NIA facilitates the creation of community-focused responses to youth violence and crime.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required and can be made online, by email at, or by calling 312.422.5580.

This event is presented by The Public Square and Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ 91.5FM.


Free and open to the public. For more information, call 312.422.5580

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580. For parking locations near the facility, please visit