On the afternoon of January 4, 2008, Tracy McClard, a mother in Jackson, MO, received a call from the Missouri Department of Corrections. The call was to inform her that her seventeen-year-old son, Jonathan, was dead. Jonathan had taken his own life upon realizing that an adult sentence made it impossible to see a future for himself, especially a future that included his dream of becoming a doctor. Jonathan McClard was one of the thousands of children that end up in the adult criminal justice system every year. His future and the future of others like him are forever changed by adult convictions that put up barriers to education, housing, and employment.
Tracy memorialized Jonathan by hosting a 5K race to bring public awareness to the issue and to educate her Missouri lawmakers – to this day, she fights to put an end to these tragedies. Tracy knew the conditions which led to Jonathan’s death and is determined to stop such experiences from happening to another mother’s son or daughter. Her 5K Race in October 2008 was just a first step, and today she is an avid advocate in Missouri and has educated countless numbers of people, including youth, state representatives, and the general public.
Inspired by Tracy and so many others fighting for justice, the Campaign for Youth Justice declared October to be National Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM). Since 2009, YJAM has grown every year. Youth, families, students and advocates throughout the country have made YJAM what it is today – a movement to end the prosecution of youth in the adult system. In 2016, YJAM became Youth Justice ACTION Month, in recognition of the tremendous growth in activism and advocacy that has emerged in recent years.
YJAM aims to provide people across the country with an opportunity to develop action-oriented events in their communities. We know that the power for change lies in our communities, so every year people all over the country come together in October to shed light on an issue that impacts nearly 200,000 youth every year.
Whether this is your first YJAM or your tenth, we hope you are inspired to take action. Join us in the movement for youth justice! Together, we can work to ensure that youth are not tried, sentenced, or incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system.