Inspired by the Leap Manifesto, a group of young students in Cheshire, Connecticut spent the past school year embarking on a learning journey. They are incarcerated at the John R. Manson Youth Institution (MYI), a maximum-security prison for adolescent boys tried and sentenced as adults by the state’s criminal justice system.
My name is Rachel, and I’ve taught English and American literature at MYI for almost two decades. The Leap Manifesto brings together so many different movements, themes, and policies, so I knew it would be a terrific way to introduce my students to the fundamentals of social justice activism. We spent the 2016 summer session, which is required for all students, unpacking some of the biggest topics and ideas in the document. Twenty-four dedicated “Leapers,” as they began to call themselves, wanted more — so we formed a year-long, extra-curricular Leap club.
I facilitated their efforts, but each learning journey was unique and totally student-directed. My only requirement was that they justify how their work is part of the transformative vision of Leaping. Students explored a huge range of subjects, including the cross-section of Indigenous sovereignty and black liberation, frameworks of restorative justice, and the Puerto Rican debt crisis.
What unites Leapers is a shared commitment to learning as a form of social activism, and they also participated in several campaigns over the school year. The students even struck up a correspondence with members of The Leap team. Naomi Klein sent them a provocative question about the manifesto: “Is there anything in this broad vision of a justice-based transition off of fossil fuels that you would see as a solution to keeping more people out of jail?” Thinking through their responses to that question sparked thrilling new insights — and they came back with hard-hitting questions of their own, challenging the Leap team to imagine how the project could be shaped by the active participation of prisoners and other marginalized people.
The manifesto is a powerful pedagogical tool. If you’re a teacher, I hope you’ll consider using it to widen the circle of voices who are evaluating and creating the Leap we need.