How You Can End the Tradeoff Between Books and Bars

The Ella Baker Center has always been blessed with good people – donors, allies, folks like you who do not hesitate to put their power behind the vision of justice and sustainable prosperity for all.

Thanks to that people power, we’ve had a lot of success in the last few years with our Books Not Bars, Heal the Streets, Soul of the City, and Green Collar Jobs Campaigns. 

We’ve also learned a lot.  One of the biggest lessons is that lifting up our youth is only a partial victory as long as their parents, siblings, cousins, and friends continue to be caught up in an unjust adult incarceration system nationwide – the largest, costliest, and most ineffective in the world.

In the spirit of Ms. Baker, we’re always asking ourselves, “How has the struggle for justice changed?  How do we need to change?” 

Shape the National Conversation

The answer, for us, is to take our message national and shape a broader public conversation about the tradeoff our country is making when we invest in mass incarceration at the expense of education, jobs, and other crucial needs. 

This new phase of growth is not without its pains, as we transition out of four core campaigns to make a wholehearted commitment to reduce the U.S. incarceration rate by 50% in 10 years. 

But we’re confident that with your people power behind us, we can bring a much-needed perspective and experience to the national stage and end the tradeoff for good.

After all, our hometown of Oakland is a case study in how the tradeoff between books and bars is shortchanging youth, families, and communities all across the nation.

Stand for Youth and Families as the Solution

The work of the Ella Baker Center is to lift up the youth, families, and communities who are impacted first and worst by our broken justice system.   

We are named for the amazing yet too often unsung hero of the civil rights movement, Ms. Ella Jo Baker, who was about inspiring and guiding emerging leaders. We build on her legacy by giving people the skills and opportunities to work together to champion and win positive change for their communities.

At the root of everything we do is our belief that people are not the problem, we are the solution.

Through successes and challenges, we’ve stood fiercely and firmly for that belief. And we’ve learned from firsthand experience that the safest neighborhoods aren't the ones with the most people in prison or the most police on patrol.

The safest communities are the ones that invest in resilient, healthy youth and families, with the best schools, the cleanest environment, and the most opportunities for youth and working people.

Yet, as a society, we’re not only disinvesting in families while spending billions on prisons, we’re causing even further damage to their health and resilience with senselessly unjust laws and policing practices.  And it’s making no one safer. 

End the Tradeoff

In 2013, the Ella Baker Center will continue our 16 years of people-powered change that has closed youth prisons in California, secured wins at the ballot box for communities of color, and inspired a national green collar jobs movement.

With your power lifting us up, we will ally with organized labor, faith communities, and other networks to make a national call for an end to the tradeoff between books and bars once and for all.

Success will mean billions of dollars that can go into schools, jobs training and creation, and other opportunities. 

And the impact of that investment will be exponential, thanks to a reduction in all the related ways our broken system harms children, families, and entire communities.

What You Can Do

We’re crazy enough to believe that we can turn this thing around, but we are not fool enough to think we can do it alone. 

Stand with us to make ending the tradeoff a national priority.  Here are three things you can do today to grow this movement:

What are the big opportunities you see to end the tradeoff and build safe, strong communities?  Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.