Jayson James attended ANYTOWN® in 1999 and has returned as a residential ANYTOWN® volunteer over 20 times since. They are a member leader of Dream Defenders and part of the Coordinating Committee, the membership board. In that role, they help review the direction and finances of the organization, lead key aspects of the work including the presidential endorsement process, and help plan events and organization-wide activities.
They are also a member leader of the local chapter of Dream Defenders, BADD (Bay Area Dream Defenders) SquaDD Pinellas. BADD hosts Books and Breakfast, an event at which they give out free books and free breakfast to community members. The books are all by authors of color and the breakfast allows attendees to engage in dialogue around issues that impact the community.
Jayson is helping to expand Books and Breakfast into a freedom school with increased engagement of the youth to provide more culturally relevant education in addition to what they are already learning in school. The goal is for black and brown youth to develop a greater awareness of their own identities and see themselves as agents that can create a more equitable society.
A major component of Jayson’s work is combating the school to prison pipeline. One major initiative is to stop a practice called “direct file”. The prerogative to bypass juvenile or family courts to directly charge a child as an adult (direct file) lies solely with state attorneys. Jayson helps lead efforts to pressure state attorneys to stop this practice and leads efforts to support candidates who can replace those state attorneys who refuse to stop.
Dream Defenders is part of coalitions whose aim is to end money bail nationally. Jayson helps educate community members about the impact of money bail on the judicial system, explaining that hundreds of thousands of people are sitting in jail only because bail is a default practice. Individuals kept in jail because of bail while awaiting trial have increased pressure to accept plea bargains to return to work and family. This results in convictions for crimes they did not commit or for procedural crimes like traffic citations (a crime for not having enough money). Jayson and Dream Defenders are influencing state attorneys and recommending that people are either released with no bail or not released at all rather than using bail as a means to influence the judicial process.
Jayson is always teaching and always learning. They have an incredible memory and passion for history and context, always espousing nuanced ideas and perspectives. They are an ethical leader, living the values of seeing people for people. When asked how they live their life, Jayson responds, “I try to live my life as… just me.”
You can follow Jayson on Instagram: @nubiankweenjayson