Circles and Ciphers: A Leadership Training Program for Young Men
Thousands of Chicago's black and brown young men are entangled in the juvenile justice system each year.  Warehoused, confined, or otherwise incapacitated these young men often internalize the discourse of a system that defines them in negative terms, as unfit to participate in society.  
Circles and Ciphers is a leadership development program for young men who are prison, court, and gang involved.  Through the use of improvisational hip-hop freestyle ciphers, as well as talking and peacemaking circles, participants will respond to this tragic pattern as community organizers: they will design a new, autonomous, nonviolent gang tailored to their unique needs.

Participants will undertake an ambitious popular education initiative consisting of three main components:

  • a participatory action research project on re-entry which involves surveying and interviewing community members to evaluate and map the resources available to young men returning to the neighborhood after incarceration or disengagement.
  • facilitating a public forum to present research findings and release the blueprint for their new nonviolent gang community.  
  • developing and touring a youth-led street law curriculum to CPS high schools (in partnership with First Defense Legal Aid, and the "Know Your Rights!" project of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law).

This program was developed and is facilitated by two NIA volunteers, Ethan Ucker and Emmanuel Andre. Funding is provided by Afterschool Matters and Project NIA.

For more information about Project NIA:

Mariame Kaba