As I opened my computer and prepared to click on the Zoom link for this year’s ACLU National Advocacy Institute, I felt very anxious about what was to come. Automatically muting my mic and deciding on whether or not to show my face or just my profile picture, I was greeted by this amazing voice. This person was so thrilled to speak to us youth about social justice issues that have been plaguing our minds and was actually willing to listen. 

Amber Hikes - ACLU Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer, our keynote speaker for the first night, and a proud queer black woman - left me with a lasting statement that has stuck with me and will definitely follow me once camp is over. After expressing how saddened she was due to the fact that this year’s summer programming is only virtual this year, she said “crisis creates opportunity.” At first, I was skeptical about what that really meant. Now I am starting to see opportunities everywhere I look. 

I admit that I was also upset at first that this year’s Institute couldn't be in person, but it was an honor to attend the Institute under the Alex McCray scholarship from the ACLU of Illinois, so I can flourish in my learning of social justice and change. Amber stated that before this pandemic that what we are going through has created opportunities for my fellow peers and myself that I would probably not have concerned myself with in the past. Mostly everyone I know has been practicing and preaching for social distancing in order to flatten the curve, but I had never thought about the people who are already alienated from our society. 

Prison reform has been a hot topic for years, but now the COVID-19 crisis has given the topic a whole new opportunity. Before the Summer Institute, I wasn't aware of the inhumane conditions in prison that people have to live in, and the lack of communication between inmates and their officers. As an inmate, it is physically impossible to social distance and protect yourself from COVID-19 when you are living in a cell the size of a parking space. 

Now that the Summer Institute has come to an end, I will be putting prison reform in my sights and helping as many incarcerated people as I can. COVID-19 is a crisis that has given people many different opportunities to help and my job as of now is to make sure I fight for the rights of incarcerated people to ensure their chance of surviving this pandemic, and to protect them from cruel and unusual punishment like the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution promised.