Teens Organize an Overnight Occupation for Jailed Black Student “Grace”

Black Lives Matter in All Capacities organized a sit-in at Oakland County Children’s Center for the 15-year-old infamously jailed for not doing her homework.

Grace

At 17, I vaguely remember my life goals. They probably had something to do with running away, living on my own and all those other angsty teenage dreams. For other 17-year-olds, like Ama Russell and Eva Oleita, the founders of Detroit-based Black Lives Matter in All Capacities, their goals include the empowerment of Black individuals through education and awareness.

“We started (BLMIAC) in early June of this year,” says Oleita. “We went to a protest on Breonna Taylor’s birthday, and we informed a lady who was our age that it was Breonna Taylor’s birthday, and that we wanted to sing happy birthday. The girl gets up and only talks about Black men, so we were pushed to talk about Black people in all capacities. This includes Black queer people, Black men, Black children, Black girls and boys, Black women, who haven’t had the platform. We’re out here fighting for them, so that they get the justice that they deserve.”

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From 8 p.m. on July 29 through to 7 a.m. the next day, members of BLMIAC organized an overnight occupation outside of Oakland County Children’s Center on the border of Waterford and Pontiac. The occupation was for “Grace,” a pseudonym for the 15-year-old Black Birmingham student sent to the juvenile detention center for not completing her online coursework after her school switched to remote learning. 

“We heard about Grace’s case, and we felt deeply moved because we are Grace,” says Oleita. Grace, who has ADHD according to ProPublica Illinois, a nonprofit newsroom that reports abuses of power, was incarcerated in May when she violated her probation by not completing her schoolwork. “There are thousands of Black girls who are in the same situations like Grace, but they don’t have people fighting for them,” Oleita says.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the judge presiding over the case, was set to review the case one last time on July 30. “Not only are we out here to let Grace know that we’re standing with her, and that we’re fighting for her, but we’re also letting the judge know that she will not get out of this unscathed,” Oleita. “We will investigate. We will make sure there’s justice for Grace.”

The group was supported by a variety of protesters, including state representatives and several other social reform organizations. “I contacted the officials in my area that I trust and that I’m familiar with, so Stephanie Chang, Rashida Talib and Mary Sheffield,” says Russell. “But, because we’re Detroiters and we’re walking into Pontiac, some (other) officials contacted us to come and speak.” 

Those officials included 12th District Senator Rosemary Bayer, who mediated communication between the police and the group’s organizers. “We’re going to sit down with Ama and Eva, and we’re going to start talking about policy,” says Bayer.

“We have to figure out what are the pieces that we have to try to fix. This is a big issue when we look at the criminal justice system and legal system. There are so many things inside there that are slow moving to change, but we need to start.” 

In support of BLMIAC’s occupation, Detroit Will Breathe, an organization focused on holding public officials accountable, led a car caravan for Grace at Midvale elementary school in Birmingham. “We didn’t give Birmingham no peace this evening,” says Detroit Will Breathe organizer Jae Bass. 

Throughout the night, crowds were posted across the lawn, some with signs and others with BLACK LIVES MATTER shirts. Bass wore a shirt that read: I WISH A KAREN WOULD. “We’re not fighting against the police, we’re not fighting against the mayor, we’re not fighting the chief, we’re not fighting against Donald Trump – we’re fighting against the system,” says Bass. “We have to break the system and change it to make it favorable for Black lives.”

The night was filled with a variety of activities, educational opportunities and exercises. Tables we’re posted to create signs and register voters. The documentary Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools was also shown.

And, much to my excitement, there was even yoga. It was organized, it was enlightening and it was an absolute honor to witness a young generation fighting for something of value. “We’re fighting and working to liberate the Black individual, and the first step is liberating Black girls so that this never happens again,” says Russell.

Update: On June 31, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the release of Grace, reversing the original ruling of Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan. The teen will stay with her mother while awaiting orders from the court, according to the Detroit News.  

BLMIAC posts upcoming events, content and educational opportunities on Instagram

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