My name is Bella Gordo. I am 17 years old, a high school junior, and the president of Cincinnati’s Young Activists Coalition. Our mission is to put an end to policing and punitive discipline in Cincinnati Public Schools. And we need your help.
When I first began organizing with Young Activists Coalition as a freshman in January of 2020, the group had just finished a year of advocating for an end to gun violence, protesting against House Bill 182, hosting teach-ins with Planned Parenthood, and collaborating with friends from Ohio Youth for Climate Justice on climate strikes—an exceptional year, to say the least. As impressed as I was as a timid fourteen-year-old with this incredibly strong and passionate group of young organizers, I never knew I could be as proud as I am now, as the group tackles a struggle so personal and so painful for many of us and our fellow students.
YAC’s Fix Our Schools campaign originated in the summer of 2020 when we understood that we were neglecting the injustice that occurred where we spent most of our time: the classroom. While reproductive rights and an end to gun violence remained important to us, we could no longer ignore how clearly the school-to-prison pipeline was perpetuated by our own schools. According to data that the ACLU and YAC obtained from the Cincinnati Police Department, approximately 400 students are entered into the criminal legal system per year, through arrests, warrants, or referrals to law enforcement. This is unacceptable. The goal of our campaign is to remove police from schools and replace the punitive disciplinary practices that so often target Black and brown children with restorative and transformative justice. Through a combination of protests and rallies at the CPS school board building, meetings with school board members, and canvassing at various political and community events in Cincinnati, we’ve made progress in engaging the community in the fight for students’ well-being in schools.
One of my favorite actions so far that YAC held at the CPS school board building was the lunchbox drop. Despite corroborating our data by the federal Department of Education, State Department of Education, and local police arrest records, many school board members refused to acknowledge the validity of data. Even more refused to meet with YAC members to address these racial disparities in discipline. On May 24 of 2021, we dropped 100 lunch boxes in front of the school board building. Each lunch box represented 4 children within Cincinnati Public Schools who are entered into the criminal legal system per year. The purpose of this action was to confront school board members with the reality of who is targeted when police are present in schools. After the action, we donated the lunch boxes to the Kids Cafe at the Freestore Foodbank here in Cincinnati.
But we aren’t done yet. Since the lunch box drop, we’ve cultivated relationships with both the lively Cincinnati activism community and the Cincinnati community at large. Over the next few months, we will be testifying at school board meetings, organizing know your rights talks, helping to pair students to community mentors, and educating the public about the harms of school policing. This is what the Fix Our Schools campaign is doing for the community.
We will be stronger with your help!
We need you, concerned residents, parents, and engaged individuals, to testify at board meetings asking to end the contract between CPS and CPD.
We need you to email and call board members about allocating funds to expand restorative practices.
We need you to talk to your friends, your family about keeping kids safe in schools without police.
The fact that children deserve to feel safe and respected in their own schools is something everyone can unite around. Even the incremental victories are incredibly fulfilling: each one is a reminder that we’re one step closer to achieving police removal, restorative justice in schools, and a supportive, uplifting environment for all students.