Summer Internships: Kira Elliott '24
Name: Kira Elliott
Class Year: 2024
Major: Political Science
Hometown: Eugene, Oregon
Internship Organization: Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project
Job Title: Youth HUB Fellowship Intern
Location: Philadelphia, PA
What's happening at your internship? We would love to hear what kind of work you are doing!
I am working as an intern with the Youth HUB Fellowship at the Youth Art and Self Empowerment Project (YASP). The YAS Project is a restorative justice, youth-led movement with a mission to end mass incarceration. It’s also a diversion program for children facing incarceration. The diversion program at YASP is called Healing Futures where my friend and coworker Lillian Ernst is working this summer! The HUB Fellowship is an opportunity for any young person directly impacted by the criminal justice system to learn skills that will help them affect change in their direct community. For some, the HUB Fellowship can continue the work from the Healing Futures department, and many youth leaders at YASP graduated from the Healing Futures diversion program. During the internship, I get to attend HUB meetings, where we talk about youth incarceration and community organizing frameworks. I’ve learned how to facilitate group conversations and what it means to be a community organizer. This summer, a big part of the HUB Fellowship has been reading We Do This Till We Free Us by Mariame Kaba and hosting group conversations about what we have read. I highly recommend the book! Another important aspect of my internship this summer is called Court Watch. I spend every Thursday morning at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice taking notes on direct file juvenile (DFJ) cases as they are heard. The YAS Project is heavily interested in DFJ cases in Philadelphia County because many of these cases can be diverted to the YAS Project’s diversion program or other diversion programs. These are cases where children are directly filed in adult court and can be tried as adults due to the allegations against the children, despite the child being under eighteen. DFJ cases do not require that the child be tried as an adult just because they are being charged as one, so we are looking for indications that the case will be re-slated or returned to the juvenile court system where it belongs. Documenting these cases and following public data is essential for pushing policy initiatives, holding officials like the District Attorney accountable to their constituents, and creating reports that expose problems with the carceral system.
Why did you apply for this internship?
I applied for this internship because I knew I wanted to work with a nonprofit focusing on social justice and community organizing in Philadelphia. As a political science major, I find myself reading, learning, and writing a lot about the issues faced in modern society without engaging with much information that shows the on-the-ground work of community members creating the better world academics often talk about. This past year, I sometimes felt anxious within a classroom to be doing the work I am often advocating for in my essays. The YAS Project is a nexus of community organizing and political science, allowing me to better understand the carceral system from the point of view of those most affected by it. As an intern, I am constantly learning new skills, applying what I know from class, creatively problem-solving, and participating in meaningful work. This internship has been a great experience, and I have been exposed to the multitude of community projects in Philadelphia and connected with people creating amazing change in the city!
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced at this internship is the emotional aspect of going to court and following DFJ cases. I factually understand that the criminal justice system aims to be dehumanizing and is set up to ensure certain demographics remain stuck in a cycle of violence. Still, attending court is a frustrating experience. Oftentimes, children are stuck in detention centers for months before their cases can be heard, even preliminarily. Family members who want to attend their child’s court dates often have to take time off work without guarantee the case will be heard. The flaws of the criminal justice system in the USA are great, and attending court as an advocate or with a restorative justice mindset can be highly frustrating. However, I know my experience in court is limited compared to those actively incarcerated or the families that show up for their children. Further, the YAS Project is very sensitive to this and aware of the difficulties that come with being in a courtroom. At the end of the day, I am grateful programs like the YAS Project exist. Attending court with my YAS Project t-shirt reminds the judge and DA that there are opportunities outside of incarceration for youth, and I am glad I can show up each week for that reason.
What is most rewarding about your internship?
On the other hand, the work I am doing is very rewarding, and it is amazing to see the effort of every member of the YAS Project. The workplace culture is one rooted in genuine friendship and care for each other which makes it easy to want to be in the office. The HUB Fellowship meetings I get to attend are full of interesting conversation, laughter, connection, and friendships. Despite the fact everyone involved in the HUB Fellowship has been impacted by incarceration, the friendship and generosity of spirit present in our meetings unveil the genuine love for people that underlies this kind of community work. To be surrounded by young people who are committed to learning, dissecting, and theorizing about what a more kind and loving world can look like is amazing. Furthermore, to partner those conversations with a program that is supporting and asking these young people to start community projects to help in making that loving and kind world is an incredible thing to be a part of. Even though a lot of my day-to-day is picking up odd jobs that need to get done, I am willing to throw myself into anything asked of me because I genuinely believe in the work that is being done here. That is the most rewarding feeling in the world for me.
Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.