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“So You Wanna Be a Hope Dealer?"

“So You Wanna Be a Hope Dealer?"

“Someone is waiting for you to be their ‘Hope Dealer,’ an audacious and fearless champion for children.” - Hasan Davis, Written Off.

Are you a hope dealer? Do you hand out life chances for the kids you encounter, the kids in your classroom, or your own kids at home?  

You may be wondering what a hope dealer is or what it even means to be a hope dealer. If you want to learn more about ways you can make a positive impact on youth with disabilities, reserve a spot at PEAK’s 2021 Virtual Conference on Inclusive Education to hear from keynote speaker and master hope-dealer Hasan Davis! 

Now, you might be asking yourself: “Who is Hasan Davis?” Hasan Davis is a name you shouldn’t forget. He has been recognized for his professional and personal efforts in guiding our nation’s youth and youth advocates in education, justice, and humanities. He is a Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellow, an inductee of the Council of State Governments Henry Toll Fellowship, and an Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellow. Currently, Hasan is a youth advocate and public speaker who provides technical assistance and support to youth serving organizations across the country. In 2012, he assumed the role of Commissioner of Juvenile Justice for the state of Kentucky. During his tenure, he successfully pushed sweeping juvenile reform legislation through the Kentucky General Assembly.

In late 2016, Hasan published Written Off: How One Man’s Journey Through Poverty, Disability, and Delinquency is Transforming the Juvenile Justice System. The book begins with Hasan confronting inexplicable racism on the inner city streets of Atlanta - tragically, all too topical today. In his schooling, he struggled with ADHD and a learning disability, which were unsupported by the educational systems through which he progressed. Later in the book, Hasan Davis shares his story of becoming a hope dealer, overcoming challenging circumstances, learning disabilities, and numerous setbacks to find his path. Along the way, various people inspired him to see a version of himself that he could not, and now he brings that message of hope to people through work in schools and the criminal justice system. Hasan shows in his book that he defied all odds to become an influential leader, working within government agencies to transform arcane government policies for youth. And, with determination and the right support, anyone can. 

Hasan’s words inspire change. He said about his book: “this book is the culmination of a lifetime of love and lessons that have shaped my personal journey from a young man in crisis to a champion for children.” When compassionate adults intervene in a child’s projected course to failure, the child’s life can completely shift positively. In short, a child’s successes are directly correlated to adults believing in them. This is a story we need now more than ever, a story that educates us to truly see each other and help each other. 

Today, Hasan focuses a lot of his work toward inequities in the incarceration of youth in the United States. Along with others in his field, he recognizes that the incarceration system in the United States is a holistic failure. The crushing impact of the criminal justice system is felt acutely in minority communities - especially communities of color, youth, and people with disabilities. On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States - an estimated 70 percent of whom have a disability. Just a few months ago, a 15-year-old Black girl, Grace, was incarcerated in Michigan during the coronavirus pandemic after a judge ruled that not completing her schoolwork violated her probation. Nationally, youth of color are incarcerated at two times the rate of white youth. Further, when youth fall into one, or more than one, minority categories, they’re significantly more likely to be negatively impacted by the juvenile justice system. By incarcerating youth, opportunities for educational growth and promise are put on hold. 

It is apparent that, regardless of circumstance, confining young people – cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and exposing them to trauma and violence – harms their development and has lifelong negative consequences. Ever since Hasan began his work as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, he has aimed to create new philosophies for the incarceration of youth, specifically thinking about ways we can improve how young people are served and supported, in spite of their challenges. He writes, 

All children deserve someone who can see them as they imagine themselves instead of just as they are in the present moment. All children deserve a hope dealer who is willing to believe beyond logic and help them reach their greatest potential…I hope you are inspired to stand with me in opposition to the incarceration of children. I hope you will join me in supporting the building of better networks of services for youth and families.

To summarize, across his life’s work, Hasan has maintained the belief that each child can and will succeed as long as adults in their world foster an environment of hope and optimism. As a matter of fact, Hasan asserts that the main reason he was able to transform his life is because he was surrounded by a committed group of adult champions who refused to let him fail. Hasan’s messaging, advice, and leadership could help to combat youth incarceration trends and, more importantly, challenge you to be a hope dealer for every child you encounter.   Hasan Davis will share his story as one of our keynote speakers at PEAK’s 2021 Virtual Conference on Inclusive Education where the theme is Where There Is Inclusion, There is Hope this February. Reserve your spot at the conference today! 

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