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Progress Beyond Protest

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On March 1st, a keynote on marginalized and disenfranchised Black youth was held in BE 1110 and led by Dominque Davis, CEO of Community Passageways (CP), a non-profit organization based in Seattle. Just within the past 12 months, CP has been able to expunge 22 high-end felonies—gun charges, shooting incidents, stolen vehicles and drug possession—out of the criminal justice system and get over 15 years of prison time off of the table.

Davis started CP in 2015 when he noticed that while there were programs for youth who had committed misdemeanors, there weren’t many programs for those who have committed more serious crimes. Davis takes new intakes and immediately thrusts them into high school auditoriums and city meetings in front of government officials, to share their testimonies and the decisions they’ve made.

His most recent intake, a student he helped get off of house arrest, had gone on a speaking tour, visiting 10 different high schools in 2 weeks. He’s also spoken at King County Steering committees and in front of the Washington State Legislature regarding a new bill on felony diversion.  About the intake, Davis says, “People are coming up to him and asking him questions, it gives them a sense of leadership, a sense of some self-respect.”

At the same time, Davis is able to build up a solid narrative for the intake’s prosecutors. He can now go the intake’s prosecutors and present them with the intake’s progress and accomplishments within the past few weeks.  Davis says, “His attitude has changed. He wants to be successful now. He’s talking about college.”

This summer CP will be taking a group of students on a Black college tour. Davis said, “Let them see students that look like them. Let them see their faces—all of the people that want to be successful and do something with their lives, they need to see that.” Davis says that the only other way his students see themselves is in jail, the streets or in the courtroom. He wants them to see themselves in a positive leadership role, whether it’s through higher education, entrepreneurial endeavors or any other legitimate career.

Alongside Davis at the keynote were 6 of his intakes. Five of the panelists are either taking college courses or working legitimate full-time jobs, 2 of which are working at UW. They all shared their testimonies, talking about stealing cars, dealing drugs, “hustling” and eventually meeting Davis. Kaeshaun Adams, one of the panelists, describes Davis as a father figure. Through CP, Davis has been able to get 3 felonies off of Adams’ record and give him the opportunity to share his testimony via public speaking. At the moment Adams is working part-time with CP, while Davis is helping him find other employment.

Davis also mentioned a new program that CP is rolling out called Family Integration Transformation (FIT). CP-FIT is in partnership with UW and the Washington Department of Behavioral Health, and their mission is to go into the homes of struggling kids and get the family stabilized financially and emotionally, whether it be through finding housing or getting them therapy. CP already helps their intakes with clothing, transportation, and tuition, but FIT wants to make sure that their intakes have a solid family foundation, so they aren’t thrust back into a broken environment.

Last summer, CP offered their intakes an 8-week course that was culturally relevant to their students, and as Davis puts it, “unapologetically Black and brown.”  They had five Black men giving lectures on the prison-industrial complex and how it works, they held mock trials to learn how the justice system works and how it works against them, and they learned about Africa and it’s plethora of civilizations. They also talked about civil rights, but instead of focusing on MLK, they focused on Huey P. Newton, H. Rap Brown and Marcus Garvey—people who Davis believes have been left out of the public school curriculum because they are too empowering to Black students.

During the Q&A segment, one student asked what the public could do to help. Davis suggested accompanying him and his students into the courtroom to show some support. Davis said, “Do you know how impressive it is for a judge to see that? How impressive it is for a prosecutor to see that? That could literally change the dynamics of whether a kid’s gonna get locked up or not, just by seeing all of these people walking into the courtroom saying, ‘we got this kid’s back.’”