The Akoma Project
Why the name change?
Formerly named the Law Enforcement and Disabled Youth (LEADY), our preliminary research involved gaining support for the program with Howard University undergraduate students enrolled in the Spring 2021 course Decolonizing Disabilities via the Department of Political Science and instructed by Chioma Oruh, the principal investigator of the project. The students supported the work by interviewing key stakeholders in DC that both understand and are engaged in shaping law enforcement public policy. In several of the papers submitted, explaining their experiences conducting the interviews and their analyses, one clear sentiment and running theme was that the name of the project should reflect more about the subject matter: disabled youth.
Forever grateful for the input of Howard University students, we have renamed the project Akoma, which is an andinkra symbol from the Akan people of Ghana and stands for empathy, cooperation, agreement and understanding.
About the Akoma Project
An action research program aimed at capturing the stories of directly impacted Black and Brown disabled youth self-advocates and their family caregivers in the District of Columbia for identifying and analyzing trends which can be remedied via anti-racist and anti-ableist public policy that reimagines public safety.
Why the name “Akoma”?
Akoma is the indkra symbol for patience and tolerance in the Akan tradition of Ghana, West Africa. Akoma is the chosen name for re-naming LEADY because tolerance and patience are the human values we are attempting to uncover and nurture in efforts to reimagine public safety for disabled youth. It also allows us to re-center the focus of the project through the name to be disabled youth and not law enforcement.
Why center disabled children and youth?
Data explaining the phenomenon of the school-to-prison often touches on the disproportional representation in rates of school suspensions, expulsions, seclusions, and restraints via Black and Brown disabled children and youth. The Akoma Project aims to provide the qualitative narrative to understand the uniqueness that students receiving special education services have when navigating the public school system. By capturing the stories of encounters of those directly impacted within the networks of carceral systems connected students that also follow these so-called at-risk students, their family caregivers and the advocates that stand by their side during these tough times, the Akoma Project synthesizes and uses this information from the grassroots and uses the information to reshape the public policy efforts to sharpen the due process protections as students and families navigate our local actualization of “care not cops” via the school-based behavioral health system. We achieve these by working closely with directly-impacted families, organizations, and coalitions.
What are our next steps in 2022?
The Akoma Project aims to create opportunities to re-center the subject of analyses of the school-to-prison pipeline as not just a function of political processes, through public engagement efforts we also aim to influence the political landscape for and by the people through encouraging participatory democratic practices via implementing the following decolonized methodologies:
- Continue to participate in the Black to the Future Public Policy Fellowship Program of the Black Futures Lab;
- One-on-one trauma informed interviews and journey-mapping;
- Prep, plan, and launch Akoma Cafes (informal and structured focus groups) to engage multi-generation stories of navigating carceral systems in DC public and public charter schools;
- Capture quantitative data of lived-experiences through exit surveys;
- Launch the Critical Hour podcast series, which is a popular education platform to interact with elected and appointed officials as decarceral/decolonial/disability justice seeking community advocates on what it means to truly re-imagine public safety; and
- Organize for public policy changes to amend the South Capitol Street Memorial Act of 2012 (which governs the DC school-based behavioral health system) to reflect the needs of the directly-impacted youth self-advocates, family caregivers, and key allied advocacy partners including: the Defund MPD Coalition, the Police Free Schools Coalition, and individual organizations and networks working to center the needs of Black and Brown disabled children and youth.