In many respects, I was drawn to my area of research from birth. My family, education, and community have all shaped my research and practice.
I was born in 1972 to young parents in a close-knit community in Dallas, Texas. That same year my father was incarcerated. I grew up sheltered and protected by my mother, step-father, grand parents, and extended family. My father was virtually a stranger until my early twenties.
During my K-12 years, my schooling in predominately European American schools shaped much of my racial identity. For many years I was unaware of my “Blackness.” While I can recall moments of discrimination in middle school, it was not until high school that race became an acknowledged and salient variable in my life. I attended a performing arts high school that developed discipline, passion, and self-expression, and it was in this space that I discovered and took on a Black racial identity. My high school musical theatre teacher and mentor Nedra James encouraged me to visit historically black colleges and universities. The decision to attend Howard University would lead to my professionalization and ultimately shape the woman I would become. After receiving my bachelor degree I began working at a community college in California. This experience sparked my professional interest in juvenile incarceration and education. Many of the students at the college had been incarcerated during their teenage years. When I left California after 5 years and moved to Texas I became the executive director of a non-profit that served high school students. I established a relationship with a judge in Midland, Texas who helped me start a first-time offender program for students who had been charged with status offenses such as truancy and possession of tobacco offenses typically associated with youth. After 10 years of working with youth in both educational and non-profit environments I decided I needed to learn more to understand how to improve my effectiveness working with juvenile offenders.
As I entered graduate school in 2002, I wanted to understand more about the juvenile justice population. In 2008, I volunteered at the Texas Youth Commission. At the same time the agency was struggling to reform itself after devastating abuse allegations. I interviewed former offenders from around the state who were attempting to reconstruct their lives after incarceration. Thirty years having passed since my father and his best friend were incarcerated as teenagers, hearing the stories of these youth lead me to wonder how I could tell their story. Essentially, the story of young men who had been filled with possibility, but were eventually lost to incarceration. I began to feel that understanding my father’s story would enhance my capacity to understand and positively impact the current day juvenile justice issues. I began to talk with family and friends about the possibility of doing research so metaphorically and literally close to home. Despite my growing interest, I did not interview my father until 2010. I wanted to understand how he and his best friend’s lived experiences mirrored and differed from those of juveniles presently. How would they describe their path to delinquent behavior, crime and prison? How did they navigate schooling and prison? In short, I arrive at this story and to my present research agenda and community work as the daughter of man who was incarcerated, as a youth advocate who has been impacted by the resilience of youth, and as a scholar who seeks to understand the school to prison discourse and consistent educational injustice.