Read our intern Gabby Moran’s first T4C grantee interview with Amachi Ambassadors! More profiles to come!
Written by Gabby Moran
Photo credit: Kayla Bowyer, Amachi Ambassadors Coordinator
“Here in Allegheny County, there are over 8,500 youth with an incarcerated parent.” (www.amachipgh.org)
Youth- led social justice has gone unrecognized for too long. It is a champion goal of Three Rivers Community Foundation to direct eyes to the phenomenal work done by young adults in the Pittsburgh region. While investigating the array of youth-led social justice programs funded by TRCF’s Teens 4 Change program, Amachi Ambassadors immediately captured my curiosity. After failing to grasp the statistic above, I felt an interview with one of Amachi’s participants would help me understand. Amachi serves the children of incarcerated parents. Amachi’s website states that the Nigerian Ibo originating word, Amachi, translates to “Who knows what God has brought us through this child?” On July 14, 2014, I conducted an interview with Tiger Weaver who is part of Amachi Ambassadors. It provided eye-opening information.
Tiger, soon to be sixteen, became aware of Amachi’s work from other involvement in youth-led social justice programs. Tiger prides himself in his role as an advocate for children who face difficulties in school due to their parent’s incarceration. Throughout his experiences with Amachi Ambassadors, Tiger found the zero tolerance policies in schools, “unfathomable.” Zero tolerance policies contribute to the school to prison pipeline. A zero tolerance policy in school is the policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or exceptional circumstances. Examples of zero tolerance policies included suspension or expulsion for bringing plastic knives, toy guns, or “drugs” like cough drops or mouthwash. The school to prison pipeline includes practices of pushing at-risk children out of classrooms and into juvenile and criminal justice systems. The school to prison pipeline, that bulldozes children through the system, leaves the child with nothing but the possibility of the cell block. This stands as paramount issue for too many youth. Tiger believes that teachers do not know how to deal with and help a child who has a more challenging home life and that some teachers, unfortunately, do not care. Weaver alluded to the fact that in a situation of this sort, when a child exhibits negative behavior in the classroom, the teacher perceives this as the child not wanting to learn, which is contrary to the truth.
The voices of children with incarcerated family members often go unheard. In order to assist children in this situation, one must pursue an understanding of the child’s circumstances, by asking young people about their experiences. Tiger’s responses, during the interview, gave a brilliant insight to the mindset of Amachi’s children. When asked what some children experience, Tiger indicated that some children suffer from guilt. The guilt may grow from the thought that his or her parent may have sold drugs, for example, to provide for them. Each child experiences his or her parent’s time spent in prison differently than the rest. Some retaliate with poor behavior of his or her own, some feel abandoned, and others do not feel affected or use his or her exposure for the good of others. One aspect that many may not recognize is socially how the child is affected. Tiger explained from his personal experience that it is understandable for one to feel uncomfortable being the only person in a room without a father or mother present. Tiger described Amachi as, “something everyone (children with incarcerated parents) needs, but not everyone gets.”
Amachi reaches out to young children, but some receive referral to the group. Volunteers, eighteen and older, mentor children in the program. Mentoring provides the child with a reliable, stable, and supremely supportive advocate and role model. Mentors expose children to enjoyable experiences ranging from the cultural to convivial. Amachi Ambassadors is division a of Amachi led by youth, fourteen to eighteen, with an incarcerated parent. One of their most recent works was in the form of a video made to discuss their advocacy for children in schools. The goal is for the video to draw awareness and involvement to supporting children with an incarcerated parent.
Young adults like Tiger Weaver prove that each individual holds the capability of doing sensational work. In addition to his responsibilities with Amachi, Weaver serves as a board member for Three River Community Foundation’s Teens 4 Change youth grant making board. A basketball and football fanatic, he fostered his passion for journalism at a young age as well. While writing a story in the third grade, Tiger discovered a quote by Lebanese author Khalil Gibran, which has resonated with him more and more over time. “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.” Tiger hopes to become a mentor in the future.