A Lobby Day to Remember

We held a children’s rights focused Day of Action in Annapolis to pass some good bills.

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(Video produced and edited by Nehemiah Bester. The video transcript is available here.)

Listen to the audio version of the blog

Two weeks ago on President’s Day, communities across Maryland packed the House, literally and figuratively. Around 200 activists, students, and community leaders marched into the General Assembly to make their voices heard during the 2024 Day of Action: Justice for Children and Incarcerated Marylanders.1

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar

(Photo of Zakiya Sankara-Jabar by Nicole McCann.)

One prominent voice in the crowd was Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, a mother, activist, and professional organizer. Zakiya and her husband co-lead a nonprofit called Racial Justice NOW!, an organization dedicated to eliminating institutional and systemic racism.

Zakiya said: “I’m very heartened to see this huge turn out from people across the state who feel the exact same way. There is so many things that we can be doing with our kids besides criminalizing and locking them up in jails and prisons.” Zakiya felt strongly about supporting advocacy for children’s rights, like defending the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2022, which reduces the risk of children being in contact with the criminal justice system. She said, “When kids make mistakes, they clearly need support, not jail or a cage.”

Rick Barnet and David Marshall

(Photo of Rick Barnet and David Marshall by Nicole McCann.)

Even Rick Barnet and David Marshall, representatives of their congregation’s Social Justice Ministry at Shepherd's House International Christian Church in Prince George’s County, which works to serve, educate, and foster a sense of loving community, came out for the first time to learn about the lobbying process and support efforts to push back against attempts to roll back the Juvenile Justice Reform Act and create second chances for Marylanders who are incarcerated.
In support of the Second Look Act, which gives courts a chance to reconsider an extreme sentence, decades after the crime, David said: “I know from personal experiences that people do change their lives around. They do take advantage of opportunities to rehabilitate. If a person has an extremely harsh sentence and has done 20 years, they should have another chance to have their sentence reviewed and reconsidered. People do change.”

David and Rick both came down to Annapolis to bring back lobbying information to their church and communities. Rick said: “How do you turn your community around? How do you turn your state around? How do you turn this way of life around? It is to get involved. And that is why Social Justice Ministry is here. So that we can improve our local church and improve our local community on how to participate in the process and get those changes.”

Veronica Grant

(Photo of Veronica Grant by Neydin Milián.)

Veronica Grant has been working in the community for many years now. From helping feed people experiencing homelessness to working with children, Veronica is a strong advocate and leader in Maryland.

Veronica said: “I am here because I feel like [legislators] need to be more proactive. They are quick to take away money from programs for our youth and they want to spend money on incarcerating them. If we are proactive, we don’t have to worry about sending our youth to juvenile centers and prisons, where they shouldn’t be. We can prepare them for life and have the funds to guide them. We need to keep the positive programs in the community, so we don’t have to rehabilitate so many of our children.” Veronica urged her legislators to “pour into the community.”

Serena Lao

(Photo of Serena Lao by Neydin Milián.)

Another advocate present for the Day of Action was Serena Lao. Her advocacy work is focused on helping children, as well. Her testimony to legislators was a call to pass the Second Look Act. Serena believes this bill would also help children because those coming out of the legal justice system can find a way back into the community by mentoring young children, so they don’t go down the similar wrong paths.

Serena said: “I think the Second Look Act is one of the most constructive pieces of legislation. It’s like the crux of what the justice system should be. There are so many people incarcerated right now that have served decades of time and have had no infractions in those decades. They’ve taken advantage of the programs offered to them in those prisons. And they’ve really shown that they’ve rehabilitated and grown from that initial crime that they’ve committed. And for those people right now, there is really no path forward for them. Even though, they’ve been trying to repent their whole lives. There is still no hope. So, this is very constructive in the sense that if you have demonstrated your maturity and that you are not a danger, then you should be able to have a second chance. And a lot of those people coming out want to help with the preventative efforts in the community.”

(Photos in the carousel above were provided by Nicole McCann, Lorena Diaz, and Merdith Curtis Goode.)

These collective voices – part of an amazing set of advocates – joined together at the Day of Action to talk directly with their elected officials. They asked questions and made demands in support of the rights of children and incarcerated Marylanders. The ACLU is grateful to be a part of this growing number of activists and groups, coming together every year on President’s Day to influence which laws should pass and hold our elected officials accountable to their words.

Do you want to get involved with this work? The 2024 General Assembly session isn’t over just yet. If you’d like to make an impact on our laws this year, join our email list to stay updated on news updates and actions to take.

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1 We partnered with Maryland Youth Justice Coalition, Jews United for Justice, the Baltimore Algebra Project, the Maryland Second Look Coalition, Fenix Youth Project, Racial Justice NOW!, Brotherly Love, Young People for Progress, Advanced Maryland, and more to do this event.