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After 5 years, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) hosted their most successful national conference with over 3,000 registrants from across the country this year. From October 12th through October 14th, OJJDP presented over 65 workshops, utilizing 11 distinct tracks. The tracks provided particular perspectives, such as those specifically tailored for funders, law enforcement, and tribal communities, but also included more over-arching juvenile justice topics to include marginalized girls, gangs, defending childhood, and protecting and advocating for children. 

The most powerful and consistent theme clearly identifiable throughout the week’s conference was the genuine inclusion of youth presenters. To have youth play such a critical role in a national juvenile justice conference truly showed that amongst over 3,000 adults sitting around a conference room, the youth were not forgotten. I imagine every participant would agree that the most impactful aspects of the three-day conference were the joint plenary sessions, keynote speakers, and special events. 

The conference unfolded with the presentation of colors by the Junior ROTC Honor Guard from Crossland High School (MD) followed by the Pledge of Allegiance delivered by young Nyah Anderson from Benjamin Orr Elementary School (Washington, DC). Welcoming participants back on the morning of Day 2, the Benjamin Orr Elementary School Chorus held the audience’s full attention during their up-lifting musical productions. Lastly, the South Shore Drill Team and Performing Arts Ensemble (Illinois) invigorated the crowd with the numerous breath-taking drill presentations, on the morning of the last day of the conference. As the drill team circulated through the audience, attendees were brought to their feet, as was the case for most of the youth’s presentations and special events. This crowd was by no mistake in complete support of the youth and their individual successes. These special events scattered throughout the conference’s agenda undoubtedly stole the show, highlighting why every single one of us spent our time and money to attend, for our shared mission to better serve and support America’s children. 

For the first time in over half a decade, the OJJDP provided a national forum for juvenile justice-involved proponents to gather, learn, and even openly and honestly discuss true opportunities and strategies for reform. The OJJDP Children’s Justice and Safety” conference emphasized a three-component strategy towards reform: unite, build, and lead. This conference provided a foundation to do just that: unite, build, and lead our juvenile justice systems throughout the nation into systems that will enhance our youth’s already existing strengths into success. 

Just one blog entry will not do this conference justice, so stay tuned for more on the OJJDP’s conference in later blogs, coming soon.