“Real Words From an Inmate”: Selina’s Poem from the Inside

“Real words from a inmate.  Not a student.  Not a girl.  Not a human being but just a number” – #34 (Selina Garcia)

locked doors, handcuffs, and shackles
isn’t my ideal reason to wake up
screaming, shouting, cussing
isn’t what I wanna hear all day long

Smiles, open arms and joy
is what I rather walk into
I rather hear I am proud of you
than 10-25-life and the 
sound of the metal doors
locking you in a cell

I rather have a diploma
in my hands
than arms twisted behind
my back with too tight cuffs

I rather fall asleep from late nights
of studying for the finals
than to fall asleep because I’m 
forced to with medications and yelling

I rather eat at a burger joint
with my colleagues and friends laughing
than the slop in silent with a old middle
school bully beside me in orange stripes

I rather hug my brothers and sisters 
than to pull out guns and pepper spray
because I’m not educated enough 
to know how to talk out differences and be civilized

I rather attend a friend’s
basketball or football game
than attend their funeral at 17
with a bundle of flowers for a grieving mother

I rather dance and eat at prom my senior year
than in a ER in labor
giving birth to a child
when I’m not able to take care of myself with a diploma

I rather seek help from 
my guidance counselor 
than to ask a gang to help
or feel protected behind the trigger of a gun

I rather say I did it, I graduated
than to say I dropped out
because I’m a misunderstood student
or I’ve fallen behind
because I keep getting suspended for nothing
or because I’m too afraid to go to school
because I get bullied and harassed in the
faces of administrators who just tell kids to stop 
but don’t take action against it

I rather hear Selina Garcia
Come get your diploma
than #34
come sit in the electric chair
and say your final goodbyes
instead of give your speech about 
your high school experience

I rather walk on the sidewalks in 
the sun
than to walk in a courtroom full a people
in shackles feeling embarrassed and humiliated
or sitting on a unit fulla 50 something
other young females – adult women not 
knowing what time it is or if the sun is
even out

I rather have a team
pushing me to graduate and go to college
than administrators against me
pushing me out of school and 
behind bars with a ransom on my head

I rather let my fellow peers know
their voices can be heard
and they can graduate
than to sit in silence and
let them lose hope in following
their dreams and goals

I rather stand up for what I believe in
than to let somebody poison my head
with words like “can’t” and “won’t”

I rather work hard earning money I
won’t have to hide
than selling drugs because I’m a expelled
high school student with a baby I have to
feed because I can’t get a job at McDonalds without a diploma

I rather see my mom’s face smiling in a crowd
than the crying, brokenhearted face at 
my trial or funeral cause I’m just
another statistic

I rather know I have people by my side ready
to make a difference within our schools
than to let these wicked games of Wake County continue
and throwing the most loved, respected, and ambitious boys and
girls in prisons than letting them carry out their dreams
of being athletes, hairdressers, lawyers, and one day, 
getting married and having kids and not have to worry  
about our next generation falling into the wrong hands
and being worse than this one we live in now.  


Selina Gets Free!



On Thursday, March 27th, the Youth Organizing Institute and NC HEAT mobilized approximately 30 of Selina’s community members to pack the courthouse on her court date, wearing green to show our support. It was clear that our efforts to uplift Selina’s voice and her powerful story had the judge, the social workers, and the SRO on their toes in the face of a demand for accountability from the strong community and media presence in the room. Selina, in a courageous statement on her own behalf before the judge, said she wanted to set a good example for other youth in foster care, “especially if I’m preaching and fighting for things to be right.”
She was released from criminal custody immediately after the court date, and NC HEAT members along with YOI staff came to the jail to welcome her home with open arms. We came to the Division of Social Services building and stood behind Selina as she demanded to be housed in Raleigh, where she would be able to finish her studies without the disruption and displacement of having to start over at a new school in a group home environment.
By the end of the day, we had won demands one and two from our petition, with Selina released from jail into a family-based placement in Raleigh where she can finish her senior year at Southeast Raleigh high and graduate with her friends! With almost 1,000 signatures on our petition pressuring the Wake County School Board, the Division of Social Services, and Raleigh PD; we are on track to win all nine of our demands. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until we have mechanisms for oversight and accountability from SRO’s and discipline policy that is transformative, and not punitive in our schools. We believe that we will win!

#NotNumber34: Bring Selina Home!


Sign the petition to demand freedom and justice for Selina and accountability from Wake County School Board, Raleigh PD, and Wake County DSS! https://www.change.org/petitions/jim-merill-bring-17-year-old-selina-garcia-home-now

As students, parents, educators, social service workers, child welfare advocates, community leaders and people of conscience: 

1. We call for the Immediate Release of Selina Garcia! 

Selina Garcia is a 17-year old North Carolina high school student and activist who has been held in an adult correctional facility for an alleged altercation on a school bus, a non-felony offense, since March 7, 2014. 

2. We demand that the North Carolina Division of Social Services (NCDSS) immediately sign Selina out of adult jail and place her in an appropriate foster care home setting in Raleigh, NC in order to allow Selina, who is currently a senior, to graduate in June 2014 and remain eligible for college scholarships. We demand this happens as expediently as possible, and that if she is put in a temporary placement, that she be in a home where she is loved and welcomed, and not a jail. We demand that housing offered by community members in Raleigh be considered as temporary placements, even if the family offering that housing is not yet foster care certified. Jails are not legitimate homes for youth! 

3. We call for a full independent investigation of the collusion between Mr. David Schwenker, Southeast Raleigh High Principal, and the Raleigh Police Department that allowed for the overturning of a low level suspension for Level 2 offense on a school bus. We demand an answer of why a minor school-related dispute between two students resulted in Selina being arrested, charged with three misdemeanor offenses and imprisoned in an adult correctional facility. We are especially concerned that Mr. David Schwenker or any educator would allow young people in their academic care to be subjected to such extreme abuse and trauma. 

4. We call for a full independent investigation of the foster care workers and supervisors employed by North Carolina Division of Social Services (NCDSS), who allowed Selina Garcia and countless other young people to be held in adult correctional facilities in lieu of foster care home placement. 

5. We demand the drafting of a new Memorandum Of Understanding between the North Carolina Public School System and the Raleigh Police Department that ensures community and school control over police activities. Wake County advocates have continued to raise concerns that the Raleigh Police Department can trump the power of educators and administrators on school property. We reference a similar incident last year that made national news at Enloe High School when Raleigh Police brutalized and arrested seven African American students and a parent who attempted to intervene in the aftermath of a senior prank water balloon fight. Then, as now, the school administrators say it’s out of their power. 

6. We support the North Carolina RAISE THE AGE Campaign. Young people in NC are legally tried as adults and we must get children out of the adult correctional system. We are outraged that because Selina is 17 years old and legally a minor, she is unable to sign herself out of jail. North Carolina is the only state in the nation that tries 16 and 17-year-olds as adults for misdemeanors and incarcerates them in adult facilities. Currently, Selina is old enough to be tried as an adult and incarcerated with adults, but not old enough to sign herself out, which she could do today if she were 18 years old. We demand an end to this hypocrisy. 

7. We demand that Wake County Public School System put a moratorium —or temporary pause— on suspensions and instead implement the NC Coalition for Education Justice’s Restorative Justice proposal. The Wake County School Board is well aware of Wake County’s School-to-Prison Pipeline. Concerned students, parents, community leaders and advocates have filed a federal complaint with the Department of Justice about unjust school discipline policies in Wake County. However, the school board has failed to adequately address these issues. 

8. We demand that Selina’s past not be put on trial and that the media not demonize her character. Selina Garcia is a bold activist with the student group NC HEAT. She is a kind and compassionate young person. There is a long history of deflecting systemic injustices onto individuals and misrepresenting their personal histories, and we reject the twisting of Selina’s story and the negative ramifications that could have on her trial. 

9. We recognize and stand in solidarity with the ongoing campaigns against the school to prison pipeline! NC HEAT, Dignity in Schools Campaign, Education Justice Alliance and countless groups across North Carolina and the U.S. have been organizing to replace punitive discipline practices with more humane restorative justice practices. We firmly believe that Students, especially of color belong in School, NOT Jail!




NC HEAT Remembers Our History as We Demand Dialogue

Reposted from the Y.O.I Blog:

Raleigh NC—On February 3, NC HEAT (NC Heros Emerging Among Teens), EJA (Education Justice Alliance) and The Youth Organizing

2011 Cake delivery by NC HEAT

2011 Cake delivery by NC HEAT

Institute mobilized to the Superintendent Forum/listening tour at Southeast Raleigh High School. While we were grateful that Dr. Merrill, the new superintendent of Wake County schools, held the forum we are looking forward to engaging with more meaningful dialogue in the future.


Like in 2011 (pictured right), NC HEAT presented the new superintendent with a cake and balloons as a welcome gift and a challenge (pictured left). The cake delivered read “14,184” which is the number of suspensions that took place in 2011-2012. While this number has decreased from the over 20,000 suspensions annually Wake County was accustomed to, we still have a long way to go.

2014 Cake Delivery by NC HEAT

“In 2011-2012 students with disabilities made up 12.6% of the student population yet they were 31.5% of suspended students. Black students made up 24.7% of school population but over 60% of those suspended,” stated Sanyu Gichie of the Youth Organizing Institute and alumni of the Wake County school system. “We need more school based counselors and social workers, we need preventative practices such as peer mediation and restorative justice. Students do not learn by simply being suspended from school.”

Other members of NC HEAT and the Education Justice Alliance commented about the excessive policing in schools, the need for more data collection on school based arrest, and called for a change/Moratorium for Out-Of-School-Suspensions policy. The coalition is demanding that Superintendent Dr. Merrill have a meeting with those most impacted by the School-To-Prison-Pipeline and give a timeline for when new discipline policies will be introduced an implemented.


“Speaking out in forums such as this one can be frustrating when it feels like there is little feedback and action relating to issues that devastate our school communities,” Said Elena Ehrlich NC HEAT member and student at Cary High School. “The policies currently in place have been taking away opportunities and the right to education for thousands of students annually. We need a timeline for when new policies will be implemented and they need to happen very soon.”

While we were disappointed Dr. Merrill would not take a picture with us, we will continue to extend a hand in friendship. Maybe next time he can let us know if he prefers brownies or cupcakes.

Media Coverage:



NC HEAT Solidarity with Teachers!


On Monday, November 4, teachers across North Carolina led “walk-ins” to protest the General Assembly’s savage cuts to education this past legislative session, opting to show up for their students—wearing red for public education, greeting them as they entered school buildings, and holding rallies and speak-outs against the cuts—rather than walking out. NC HEAT, or Heroes Emerging Amongst Teens, encouraged students to show support for their teachers by attending walk-in rallies, wearing red to school and giving their teachers apples as statements of solidarity. NC HEAT members also showed up early to distribute literature about the plight of public education at three high schools where teacher actions had been squashed by administration. NC HEAT leaders Markyona and Jennifer co-wrote this statement of solidarity with teachers, which was distributed to high school teachers around the Triangle area:

North Carolina Heroes Emerging Among Teens (NC HEAT) recognizes the struggles of North Carolina teachers and students to be intertwined. We recognize that education based on harm reduction and restorative justice are contingent upon meaningful investment in educators and student support staff. As students in North Carolina, we can personally see and feel the impacts that our state’s policies towards teachers are having. Our class sizes are growing, our classroom resources are slowly diminishing, and just as these issues are impacting us as students, they are also hurting the very teachers who are dedicated to helping us get the most out of our educations and succeed. 

Teachers in North Carolina are significantly underpaid in relation to teacher salaries across the rest of the nation. Having the 4th lowest average teacher salary in the United States, $10,000 less than the national average, North Carolina is losing the valuable teachers that school systems need to successfully educate students. Teachers should not be forced to work separate part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. When talented and dedicated teachers are relocating to other states with higher salaries, students in North Carolina are being put at a disadvantage.

From a young age, teachers are a vital influence on the lives of students and when the proper resources are not being provided in the classroom, this influence can become lessened. Especially within younger grades, teacher assistants are particularly critical in the classroom. Students need as much one-on-one attention as they can get, and without these teaching assistant positions, this attention becomes significantly harder to come by.

NC HEAT demands that teachers be paid adequately for the work that they do, that class sizes be reduced, and that paid teacher assistants and other support staff be hired. We encourage students across North Carolina to participate in walk-ins across the state in protest of current policies, and give their teachers an apple on November 4th in an act of solidarity.

National Week of Action to End School Pushout

ImageThe Youth Organizing Institute, the Education Justice Alliance and NC HEAT will join over 50 organizations in more than 20 states to demand that our school systems adopt positive approaches to addressing behavior problems.  Zero tolerance discipline policies, school police or armed guards, and other punitive practices have been found to result in much higher suspension and expulsion rates, often for minor misbehavior, fueling a “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

The week will launch a campaign to put a moratorium, a temporary pause, on level one out of school suspensions in Wake County. In the 2011-2012 school year, over 14,000 students in Wake County were suspended from school. Students of color, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities were suspended at disproportionately high rates. in Wake County where black students receive over 60% of suspensions but make up less than 25% of the school population.

This campaign asks that during the pause administrators and community members study and recommend alternatives to suspensions that implement research-based restorative justice practices.


WHAT: NC HEAT marches in Durham Pride to oppose criminalization of LGBTQ Youh
WHEN: September 28, 12:00PM
WHERE: Duke East Campus

WHAT: Press Conference to Launch Campaign for Pause in Suspensions
WHEN: October 1, 2013 5:00PM
WHERE: In front of the WCPSS administrative building (5625 Dillard Dr, Cary NC 27518)

WHAT: Youth-led End the School-to-Prison Pipeline March to Central Prison 
RSVP and share our facebook event
WHEN: October 4, 4:00PM-6:30PM
WHERE: The march begins at Washington Elementary School (1000 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC ‎27601) and ends at Central Prison (1300 Western Blvd).
**Watch this video, created by NC HEAT member Q Wideman about last years march.

Wake County School Board Candidates Answer Questions about Discipline Disparities and Youth Engagement

This September, NC HEAT members attended a series of candidate forums for aspiring Wake County school board members and posed questions around discipline issues and youth voice and engagement in education policy issues.  These questions were also emailed to the candidates who had 10 days to respond. 

Four of the eight candidates went on record, answering the questions the youth posed.  

Their answers can be found on this pdf flier, which is a compilation of their responses

Sept 10, 2013: Wake School Board Candidate Forum in Cary, NC

Sept 10, 2013: Wake School Board Candidate Forum in Cary, NC

NC HEAT Plans Second Annual March

flier smaller fileAs part of Dignity in School’s National Week of Action Against School Pushout, NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens) and the Youth Organizing Institute are calling for a MARCH & SPEAK-OUT against the School-to-Prison pipeline.

This is the Second Annual march, led by NC HEAT members.

The march will start with a speak out at Washington Elementary in Raleigh (1000 Fayetteville St.) and proceed to Central Prison for a demonstration with music, drums and raised voices!

Bring friends, signs and noisemakers, and WEAR YOUR BACKPACKS! Show up to push back against school pushouts!


Big Plans for the National Week of Action!


On September 21, members of YOI, NCHEAT and the Education Justice Alliance met to discuss our plans for the upcoming year.  In particular, we planned out the upcoming Week of Action, part of Dignity in School’s National Week of Action Against School Pushout. The Week of Action will take place from September 28 through October 5.  NCHEAT will start out the week by marching at NC Pride in Durham on September 28.  On October 1, there will be a press conference to announce YOI, NCHEAT and EJA’s campaign for a moratorium on out-of-state suspensions, taking place  immediately before a Wake County School Board meeting at which students and parents will speak out against the crisis of suspensions in Wake County.  On October 4, NCHEAT will lead Push Back Against Push Out, a youth-led march against school pushout and the prison-industrial-complex. YOI and NCHEAT members planned out costumes, speeches and chants in preparation.

Get excited!  More info on the Week of Action will be announced soon.

Youth Grill Wake School Board Candidates on Discipline Issues

Sept 10, 2013: Wake School Board Candidate Forum in Cary, NC

Sept 10, 2013: NC HEAT members line up to ask questions at Wake School Board Candidate Forum in Cary, NC

On Monday, September 9, seven NC HEAT members attended the Cary Candidate forum located at Covenant Christian church, to ask perspective school board members the questions about the epidemic of suspensions and racial disparities in school discipline practices.   NC HEAT members used data-driven research to generate thought-provoking questions to encourage candidates to discuss their vision for how to address the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County.

NC HEAT members highlighted that data shows that youth of color and disabled youth are suspended and pushed out of public schools at a rates alarmingly higher than their white, non-special needs counterparts.  Perspective candidates Nancy Caggia and Bill Fetcher seemed unable or unprepared to adequately address these policies issues.  Both candidates stated that they would not support a Moratorium on Out-of-School Suspensions.  After hearing the research and questions presented by NC HEAT members, NC HEAT hopes that the candidates will consider working more closely with students and communities to solve our school discipline crisis and create policies that treat every student, regardless of race, gender, gender presentation, ability, or sexual orientation with dignity.