Shalonda Jones is one of about 15 volunteers—Rochester residents with families and jobs—who work tirelessly as part of the Community Justice Initiative.
CJI was formed last May amid the throes of the worldwide pandemic and as racial injustices rang out in the community. After the handcuffing of 10-year-old Nailah Bey, a Black girl at a traffic stop, lawyers, business owners, educators and others banded together to take a stand.
A mother of two, Jones runs her own business, LaLa’s Closet, and hosts a podcast, “Prayer Call with Shalonda,” where she strives to inspire healing and growth.
“Our overall mission is to improve the African-American community, uplifting our brothers and sisters, educating, tearing down the violence in our community, tearing down poverty; to improve the African-American community, (those) who are clueless to what is really going on and failing to educate themselves on these issues,” Jones says.
The group focuses much of its attention on the Rochester community, operating on the five pillars of its Stop the Violence campaign. Community involvement leads the way. Adopting the “it takes a village” approach, CJI believes the more people are involved, the farther the reach.
Education and employment are also key elements of CJI’s mission. Employers with job openings can connect with the initiative to extend those opportunities to people who need them. CJI also aims to combat poverty by offering free meals to the needy. Organizations and individuals alike come together regularly to provide hot meals for those struggling to put food on the table. (Dates and locations of these events can be found here.)
“Spirituality is (also) one of our pillars,” Jones says. “We want to increase the spiritual aspect of people leaning on God and praying and having a direction to go in and learning how to heal and become. We all have a purpose.”
Currently, the group is working to pass Nailah’s Law. If passed, the law will make it illegal for Rochester police to handcuff and pepper spray minors. In doing so, CJI hopes to prevent emotional trauma experienced by youth at the hands of law enforcement.
In February, Rochester made national news again when police handcuffed and pepper sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl after responding to a family disturbance call at her residence. She was then forced into the back of a patrol car before being transported to Rochester General Hospital
“How long is it going to take people to really be human in their profession?” Jones wonders. “As if we’re not from this planet. As if we don’t all bleed the same and put our pants on the same way every single day. As if we don’t have jobs and children to take care of. We all come from the same place.”
She adds: “None of you are parents? You don’t know how to handle kids? You would pepper spray your child? You would put your child in handcuffs? You have absolutely taken your authority to a whole other level to not look at a child as a child.”
It isn’t just the events happening in Rochester that have pushed CJI to take a stand for justice. The group is acutely aware of incidents across the nation such as the police-related deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Despite the challenges in reaching these ambitious goals, smiles and gratitude keep the group going, Jones says. The community has begun to respond. Donations in cash and personal items have allowed the CJI to provide clothing and diapers to families who would otherwise go without.
Members call on all to join in on the fight for justice, regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
“Yes, this is a movement but still, in all areas there has to be acceptance,” Jones says. “There has to be love (and) togetherness. Unity is the only way we can do this.”
Amanda Moulton-Proctor is a Rochester-area freelance writer.