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About Us

Project NIA — “nia” meaning “with purpose” in Swahili—is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.

We support youth in trouble with the law as well as those victimized by violence and crime through community-based alternatives to the criminal legal process. We partner with local activists and organizations to create such alternatives.

We believe we can transform harm into healing by building connections and opportunities in our communities. Through education, research, and advocacy, we create avenues to address harm productively, rather than relying on the police and criminal legal system. For the past 10 years, we have offered over 200 community workshops about juvenile justice and the prison industrial complex and published dozens of educational curricula on how to better address harm in our communities. Because young people should never end up behind bars.

Gioncarlo MK

Mariame Kaba

Founder & Director

Mariame Kaba is the founder and director of Project NIA as well as a community organizer, educator, and curator. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transforming justice, and supporting youth leadership development. Mariame has also co-founded other organizations, including the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, and the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team.

Mariame is an acknowledged expert on the topic of youth incarceration, with recent appearances on NBC News, the Guardian, and Vice. She is also available to consult or facilitate workshops on topics such as juvenile justice, youth leadership development, the prison industrial complex, curriculum development and evaluation, and research support. Mariame has received numerous honors and awards for her work over the years, including the 2019 Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice, the 2019 Visionary Voice Award, and the Essence Magazine 2018 #Woke100.

Mariame is currently a researcher in residence on race, gender, sexuality, and criminalization at the Social Justice Institute of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. After more than 20 years of living and organizing in Chicago, she moved back to her hometown of New York City in 2016.

Advisory Board

Hilda Franco
Educator and Cultural Organizer

Alisa Bierria
Member of Survived and Punished

Shira Hassan
Activist with Just Practice

Kelly Hayes
Co-founder of Lifted Voices

Deana Lewis
Lecturer with Love & Protect and National Women's Studies Association

Joey Mogul
Partner at People's Law Office and Organizer for Chicago Torture Justice Memorials

Lewis Wallace
Co-founder of Press On

Our History

Project NIA was founded by Mariame Kaba in Chicago, Illinois in 2009 with the goal of ending youth incarceration through transformative justice. The organization moved to New York City in 2016 and launched the NYC Transformative Justice Hub in 2019, bringing volunteers together every month for political education and community project consultation. In 2020, our work went online and our reach spread nationwide.

While based in Chicago, Project NIA served as a catalyst and incubator for programs that address juvenile justice issues by helping local activists, building their leadership skills, and influencing policy. Initiatives included a Chicago peace room, Circles and Ciphers, Families in Touch, and Liberation Library. We helped to pass juvenile expungement legislation, to close youth prisons in Illinois, to successfully demand transparency about suspension and expulsions at Chicago Public Schools, to popularize a demand for "Counselors NOT Cops in schools, and to successfully pass historic reparations for police torture survivors in Chicago.

We have produced original research, data reports, and countless curricula and publications made available to our communities for free. We supported youth-directed participatory action research in addition to creative projects like short films, audio collages, digital & analog exhibitions, and more.. We convened thousands of people across the country through conferences, workshops, and so much more. Project NIA will sunset in December 2023 after 15 years, with our seeds sown and new projects and experiments sprouted.

Success Stories

Discover Project NIA's past work in the fight against youth incarceration.

See our past projects