Patrisse Cullors, LA Reform Jails Tackle Mental Health, Mass Incarceration with Mental Health Matters Summit + Day Party

Patrisse Cullors, Zuri Adele, Yara Shahidi, Diana Zuniga, Christman Bowers and Helen Jones-Phillips attend Reform L.A. Jails Summit + Day Party: Mental Health Matters on Nov. 9, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif.
Photo: Jesse Grant (Getty Images)

In its commitment to addressing the failures of the prison industrial complex—as it pertains to mental health, drug dependency, chronic homelessness, and other issues—Patrisse Cullors, founder of Reform L.A. Jails, knew her organization would require a unique strategy in order to build a stronger rapport with Los Angeles residents and educate them on the unspeakable atrocities occurring in their local jails.

“Our creative consultant, Damon Turner, said that one of the ways that we can get a younger audience to kind of talk about issues of incarceration and mental health is to have a day party,” Cullors told The Root. “This is a concept that lots of us are doing. We’re going to day parties, were hanging out. It felt really important to kind of use the culture of the day party as a part of how we talk about some really important issues in the community around mental health and incarceration.”

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So that’s exactly what they did.

Part summit, part festival, partday party, Reform L.A. Jails organized a full day of activities designed to both educate and entertain those in attendance, as well as encourage them to vote “yes” on the organization’s criminal justice reform initiative on the upcoming California primary ballot.

In between a series of fireside chats and panel discussions, there were tacos, popcorn, bounce houses, art installations, massages, and a DJ; because what day party is complete without a DJ? Also on-site were vendors such as Union Station Homeless Services, The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, and Friends Outside, who each did their part to inform attendees of the challenges incarcerated individuals face, as well as those who transition back into Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The panels succinctly explored topics such as the history of incarcerated individuals in relation to mental health, policy solutions in order to properly address our mental health crisis, social movements in relation to societal ills, and even provided a unique opportunity for District Attorney candidates Richard Ceballos, George Gascon, Joseph Iniguez and Rachel Rossi to personally explain how they’ll each work towards decriminalizing mental illness.

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Each panel also featured noteworthy community leaders, experts, activists, and celebrities who are committed to overhauling our criminal justice system. These included Dawn-Lyen Gardner of Queen Sugar, Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi, Zuri Adele of Good Trouble, and Michele Infante of Dignity and Power Now. And to close out the evening, Shady Records rapper Boogie performed his songs “Lolsmh” and “Silent Ride.”

All in all, the event was the perfect marriage between empowerment, education, and entertainment. And to Cullors, it was exactly what she sought out to accomplish.

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“I want more people to understand some of the local issues happening in Los Angeles,” she said. I thought it was an interesting sort of intersection between, you know, celebrities, influencers and folks who are working at the county that are like in the throes of it every single day to activists and organizers who have been pushing the issues around ending mass incarceration for decades now. And it’s really important that people got to hear from D.A. candidates who’re doing the work.”

But outside of becoming informed of these issues, she stressed the importance of hitting the polls.

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“Get out the vote on March 3rd, 2020,” she said. “Move on some of the most important issues like Reform LA Jails in particular.”

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About the author

Jay Connor

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.