COMMUNITY VOICES | “Unchain Our Children” youth organized rally against the school to prison pipeline


On February 26th at 12:30pm, NAACP St. Paul Youth and Collegiate Branch is organizing a protest against the school to prison pipeline at Central High School in St. Paul, MN. The “Unchain the Children” protest is youth organized protest that is fighting back against the criminalization of youth of color and low income youth in the Twin Cities public school system. This protest is attached to a larger project where Central High School and other public schools will be told to look deeply into their disciplinary action and how it is problematic.

Disciplinary action that is taken in MN must be examined, deconstructed, and completely reconstructed. Currently, the public school system works against students of color and low income students through their traditional forms of regulatory action. In MN dismissals, suspensions, expulsions and arrests are common place, especially among students of color and low income students. Nationally, the expulsion and suspension rate for youth of color is 3.5 times higher than white students, and in the state of Minnesota it’s more than four times higher for youth of color than for white students.

Students who are suspended are more likely to drop out of high school. Youth who drop out of high school are much less likely to move on to college and are much more likely to engage in criminal activity, as well as more likely to become homeless at some point in their life. Not only does this highly suggest that the suspension and expulsion of students does nothing but create problems for youth, but it also suggests that the school system is intentional in its harm of youth— their lives are negatively altered by the strict school bi-laws as opposed to positively. The disciplinary action in the public school systems are creating a funnel for low income youth and youth of color into the jail system.

The first step to criminal activity is stigmatization. Youth of color are stigmatized by their school record and are labeled dangerous when they are suspended, dismissed, or arrested. Those students internalized the constructed idea that they are innately “bad kids” who will “eventually end up behind bars.” Note that these are things I’ve heard being said to other students by teachers on multiple occasions for things as simple as sagging their pants or being hyper active in class. When you are told that you are “bad” as a child, you begin to believe it and begin to act on the attributes that others have ascribed onto you. This is especially true of youth of color because they are labeled as deviant and inherently violent when they are young.

There are institutional implications of the school to prison pipeline that go further than high school. For years, folks have been circulating a bad rumor that states and prison management companies look at fourth grade test scores to determine their prison growth needs in the future.  Rather than looking to educational intervention or educational rehabilitation for the students, prisons are alleged to build prisons around inner city areas were test scores are low for the fourth grades..

I have also personally experienced institutional racism through the school to prison pipeline through my criminalization. When I was in kindergarten, I unfurled a paper clip and was sent to the office because I was “aiming the paperclip with criminal intent.” When I was sent to the office and nearly suspended because my teacher was “concerned for the safety of the other children.” Granted, I was only five years old and didn’t understand what a paperclip was, but apparently a five year old black girl is definitely an imminent threat.

NAACP St. Paul Youth and Collegiate Branch, Save The Kids, Brotherhood Inc, and Students for Racial Justice at Augsburg College are all fighting against the school to prison pipeline because it poses a threat to the humanity and the future of youth of color in the Twin Cities. We hope to gain the attention of community members, activists, and concerned people in MN who are interested in fighting back against institutional atrocities such as the cradle to prison pipeline. I hope to see all willing participants there!


Children’s Defense Fund

“Cradle to Prison Pipeline” March 2009  Washington, DC <>




“Dismantling the School To Prison Pipeline”; New York, NY 2005

P. Chavous, Kevin;“Why Are Prisons More of a Priority than Schools?”; Huffington Post 2012