At the CFSY, we hold an ongoing commitment to acknowledge and uplift positivity even in challenging times. But for nearly three years, we have been unable to physically convene as a community to do so. Earlier this month, we held a historical celebration to recognize the successes of directly impacted individuals and create a meaningful, restorative environment for our network to come together in person.
The CFSY’s Inaugural Freedom Celebration on September 8, 2022 at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. united more than 100 individuals once sentenced to life in prison as children for a chance to reflect, heal, and share each other’s joy. They were joined by nearly 200 of our community members – advocates, partners, survivors, and loved ones – who traveled from all around the United States to take part in honoring the 900 formerly incarcerated youth who have come home. Click here to see the full collection of photos from this wonderful event–just sign into a Google account to access the folder!
“Strength in numbers. Power in healing. A national community in collaboration to create understanding, awareness, and therapy to move onward. I am proud, blessed and honored to be part of said community.”
-Troy Burner, ICAN Member
The day before the celebration, many of our guests attended a congressional briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building. At this briefing, congressional personnel heard from a panel of formerly incarcerated youth and survivors of youth violence, highlighting the drastic need for youth sentencing reform at the federal level. Subsequently, the panelists and attendees had the opportunity to meet with lawmakers about the pending federal legislation that seeks to end extreme sentencing practices for children in the U.S.
On the morning of September 8, the CFSY hosted Miller at 10, a panel conversation marking the 10th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama. Attendees heard from front-line advocates and people who have been directly impacted by the extreme sentencing of children. The discussion charted the milestones and setbacks of the last decade and mapped a path forward in which the United States ceases to be the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison.
“ ‘Nobody is free until everybody is free’ is a famous quote by Fannie Lou Hamer. The Freedom Party was an amazing manifestation of this quote in celebrating all the individuals who are free after being condemned to die behind bars as juveniles. We also acknowledged the work that we still have before us. And by doing so, hope and light was shined in the dark corners of the criminal injustice system.”
-Kaleem Nazeem, ICAN Member
Later that evening, the Freedom Celebration commenced! The Omni-Shoreham ballroom was packed with hearty refreshments, music and dancing, and incredible pieces from several talented ICAN artists. It was a perfect encapsulation of the resilience, optimism, and unity of our directly impacted network, and we are so grateful to all who joined us both in person and in spirit.
“Going to prison with a life sentence in my teens, the 2022 CFSY/ICAN Freedom Party was the prom-like experience I never had a chance to enjoy as a child. It also allowed me to celebrate my freedom and second chance with youthful offenders from all over the country, most of whom I met for the first time but in many ways it seemed like we knew each other all along. Looking at it from the perspective that this party was not supposed to happen according to the sentences we were handed, the Freedom Party was the most meaningful celebration in this country!”
-Anthony Gomez, ICAN Member
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to each and every individual who helped turn the dream of this celebration into a reality, with a special thanks to the Tow Foundation for its significant contribution to this event as part of its investment in the wellness of our directly impacted community members. While there is still much work to be done to achieve our collective freedom, we are so glad that this gathering allowed us to embrace the revolutionary acts of pausing, breathing deeply, laughing, dancing, and celebrating.