It has been a productive year!



Many of us in Rochester ACTS are familiar with Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This widely read book is waking Americans up to the reality people of color are facing in our criminal justice system and the ways that the system helps shape our society, functioning to impose second class status on people of color.

For the last few decades New Yorkers have watched as other states have raised the age of incarceration. Here in New York state, our elected representatives in Albany dragged their feet while thousands of 16 and 17 year olds were convicted and incarcerated as adults.

We heard gut wrenching stories from teens around the state and from parents of incarcerated youth and formerly incarcerated youth right here in Monroe County. Would this system have been allowed to continue if the overwhelming majority of youth sentenced to adult prisons were Caucasian American youth?

I don’t think so.

As you probably already know, Rochester ACTS got involved in this issue, joining other advocacy groups around New York State. And, significantly, we played an important role in finally getting the Raise the Age legislation passed. Our members did a lot to get our State Senators on board. We:

·        Met with our state senators and aides here in Monroe County and talked about how sentencing and incarcerating youth as adults had a negative impact on the youth, their families and the rest of us in the community

·         Traveled together to Albany to talk about the issue with Senators in their offices

·         Talked to the editorial board at City Newspaper (the D&C had already come out in favor of the legislation)

·         Made phone calls to NYS Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan

·         Wrote hand written letters and made phone calls to our NYS Senators

·         Sent emails to our local state legislators

·         Collected over 2000 postcards and distributed them to our state senators

·         Held press conferences at Senator Funke’s office

·         Went on the radio to discuss the issue

·         Spoke to television reporters on several occasions

And most of us who took part in these efforts had never done this before. Rochester ACTS provided the training and support so that we could be learning while doing. This is how we build the movement, together.

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Our childcare advocacy efforts also bore fruit this year. The Monroe County budget reflected a raise in childcare for the first time in years. To get that funding increase we partnered with other advocacy organizations in Monroe County, recruiting our members to talk to their county legislators and come to county legislature meetings. Again, many of us had never done anything like this before. This struggle continues. Although many of us traveled to Albany to talk to legislators about the importance of investing in childcare, this year NYS made cuts to childcare assistance.

Nonetheless, once again, we are joining together with other groups around the state to push Albany to invest in our families and youth in the next budget.

In all the work Rochester ACTS has been doing, we have seen how funding and policy can helpto narrow the gap between People of Color and Caucasian Americans or widen that gap. We live in a society that was shaped by slavery and Jim Crow. Institutional racism and personal prejudice continues to close doors to opportunity and create obstacles to stability. We launched our Sacred Conversations on Race + ACTION to have courageous conversations with each other about these realities.

Over the past year we:

·         Held 17 Sacred Conversations on Race + ACTION

·         With members from 17 congregations

·         Engaging over 170 participants

We can’t imagine doing this work together without having these frank conversations about race. If you participated in one of these Sacred Conversations on Race + ACTION then you are aware of the powerful impact the conversations had on participants. The truth is that in the United States, in 2017, we still rarely have real conversations about racism and the impact that it has had and continues to have on our lives.

We will continue with these Sacred Conversations on Race this fall. If your congregation has not yet participated, please contact us to schedule it with you.

Rochester ACTS has also joined the Structural Racism Initiative sponsored by St Joseph Neighborhood Center. We are committed to looking at the ways that our organization perpetuates existing race hierarchies and how we can become the most inclusive and welcoming organization that we can be.

As you probably already know, Rochester ACTS is working on police accountability this summer. I am a Vietnam War veteran and Commander of the Pennington-Moye VFW Post. I served as military police and I know what professional policing is supposed to look like.  If you’ve heard the stories about Rochester residents like Bennie Warr and Rickey Bryant then you share my determination to make sure that no Rochester resident is ever again treated with such a lack of respect and dignity. But if it does happen that a police officer acts brutally, we can no longer allow city employees to go without being held accountable. This has to stop.

Working with other determined organizations we have already made this an election issue. I spoke to City Council with other members of our Police Accountability Board Organizing Committee about the need for a new Police Accountability Board. City Council, for the first time ever, has issued a subpoena to the Rochester Police Department about Rickey Bryant’s treatment.

When Rickey Bryant was seventeen he was stopped by the police and suffered a broken eye socket as a result of the encounter. Rickey was not the suspect they were looking for. Although he was a minor, his mother was not contacted to ask her about treatment for his injuries. We know that Rickey was pepper sprayed. We know that his eye socket was broken. We don’t have body camera video evidence of how the police treated Rickey because the police claim there isn’t any video. We also know that the internal investigation does not hold the police officers accountable for Rickey’s injuries.Dozens of organizations and congregations have joined the movement, submitting letters of support for a new Police Accountability Board. If your organization or congregation has not yet signed on with a support letter please contact us as soon as possible. We need to expand our movement significantly in the next month.

This is an election year in Rochester. City Council members are up for election. City Council has the power to change the police accountability system.

 This summer we will be talking to voters at festivals, in congregations and door to door in neighborhoods with low-voter turnout.  We’ll be asking people to sign our Police Accountability commitment cards. This is already an election year issue. We are going to help turn up the heat.

I know that your deeply held values have moved you to stand with us in the past. We share your commitment to a just and equitable world. We are building grassroots power to move in that direction.

Your contribution helps us continue this work. Monthly contributions help provide a steady and predictable revenue stream for our small and efficient operation. We are blessed that we have succeeded in getting grants that make up half of our budget.

If you are committed to community, compelled by your faith to work for a better society, committed to racial equity, believe that we’re all in this together and we all do better when nobody is left behind, then please join us in supporting Roc/ACTS with a monthly contribution.  Your contribution will certainly make a difference.


Thomas DeMond, Rochester ACTS President