Shining A Light On: Kristen Rome

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Shining A Light On: Kristen Rome

This month, we are shining a light on Kristen Rome, Executive Director of the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights (LCCR). The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights is a nonprofit law office that stands with kids in the justice system no matter what. LCCR provides holistic legal defense to address children’s needs both inside and outside the courtroom. And they tackle the systemic issues that criminalize mostly poor, Black youth in the first place. LCCR's goal is to keep kids out of a harmful system so that they can thrive where they belong: at home, at school, and in our communities.

FFL: Could you share with us your core leadership philosophy and how it has shaped your approach at the LCCR?

Kristen Rome: Leadership, at its core, is service. My approach to leadership centers people, community, and culture because history has shown us that real power rests with people. My service to my community is to motivate and align others to achieve individual and collective liberation through our personal and collaborative work.

FFL: What personal or professional experiences have been most influential in developing your leadership style?

KR: My leadership style is heavily influenced by those I consider unsung heroes who worked tirelessly for their communities in spite of recognition. Some of them are ancestors, some elders, and some still here working alongside me. They include my uncle, Norbert Rome—who spent every single day of his life fighting for economic and social justice for Black people; Carolyn Williams—who built a community dedicated to creating and sustaining Black home ownership in the 11th ward of New Orleans, Nicole Deggins—a community midwife who trains community birth workers and reminds us that birth is the revolution, Shon Williams—my friend and colleague who works to help incarcerated youth get access to the things he wished he had as a teenager, and my mother, Toni Rome—a death doula (hospice nurse) who has committed her life to supporting families and individuals as they embark upon the most difficult transitions of their life. Each of these people and so many others have taught me to lead with compassion and to do the hard work, even when I am afraid.

FFL: Leading an organization that plays such a crucial role in children's rights must come with unique challenges. Could you discuss one or two challenges you've faced and how you've overcome them?

"The youth are our future. If we have no hope in them, we have no hope for our future."

- Kristen ROME

KR: Right now, the biggest challenge is the absolutely disgusting narrative that our children are monsters who are not worthy of our love. We are in a moment where the “superpredator” lie of the 90s is rearing its ugly head again. And sadly, far too many people are accepting it as true. The youth are our future. If we have no hope in them, we have no hope for our future. We owe it to all of those who came before us to protect the future. We owe it to ourselves. Children are a reflection of their environment and when that reflection looks differently than how we expect, we must examine ourselves. LCCR is working to shift the narrative that the media and racist politicians create about Black children. No person is the worst thing they’ve ever done, and when someone commits harm, it is a symptom of a greater need. As we shift the narrative and amplify accurate ones, we, as a community, can start the real work of addressing the root causes of youth misbehavior.

FFL: Looking ahead, what are your key goals for the LCCR?

KR: Our key goals for the next few years include working with more people who are directly impacted by youth incarceration, creating sustainability in our work, and learning how to listen to the wisdom of the moment. We know that the people closest to the issue are also the people closest to the solution. We also know that the work of dismantling systems of harm and rebuilding communities of cooperation is incredibly difficult and draining work. As we elevate individuals with the direct system experience, we know the trauma of this work will hit them the hardest. That is why we are working towards centering wellness and personal ecology in our work. Finally, the tides are constantly shifting in youth justice. In just 10 days, our legislature completely obliterated decades of progress in youth justice. Still, we know that there is wisdom in this moment and we intend to listen to it.

FFL: What aspects of your work do you find most fulfilling, and how do they motivate you to continue your efforts in children's advocacy?

KR: Connecting with young people and families is, hands-down, the best part of my work. There is no greater joy than seeing a child laugh. I hate the word resilience because it is weaponized so often against Black and Brown people, but I recently heard a definition that resonated with me. It defines resilience as “shifting from reactivity to a state of resourcefulness in moments of stress and crisis.” When I am able to sit with children and families, I slowly see this shift happening and I remember that our joy cannot be taken by these systems—no matter how hard they try. When allowed the space to be, our children are beautiful, resourceful, and fun!

FFL: Reading?

KR: I just finished Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler. I am currently reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.

FFL: Listening to?
KR: I am listening to Pearl Cleage's audiobook, Things I Should Have Told My Daughter. When I listen to podcasts, I enjoy "Fare of the Free Child," "In Those Genes," Deepak Chopra’s "Infinite Potential,"  and "Around the Way Curls."

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