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  • Michigan Center for Youth Justice

Youth Justice Advocacy Profile: Deshawn Leeth

Updated: Jan 29

We are excited to add our first Youth Justice Advocate Profile to highlight the incredible individuals, alongside MCYJ, trying to make a lasting impact for youth in Michigan. This month we’re featuring an interview with Deshawn Leeth, the founder and executive director of Under Dawg Nation (UDN), a nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk youth who lack resources to help prevent violence and disengagement from school. His passion and dedication have led to the creation of innovative programs that provide resources, mentorship, and hope to countless young individuals at risk of coming into contact with the justice system.

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your connection to the justice system?

I was born the youngest of five in Detroit, MI. I started UDN in late August 2021 with the goal of keeping kids from going through what I went through in the juvenile system. Growing up was a roller coaster ride for me. By age 18, I was sentenced to 9 years in prison after years of living a criminal lifestyle on the streets. Following my release from the Michigan Department of Corrections on January 5, 2021, at 27, I have made significant strides with UDN and have made UDN a primary resource for kids in my community.

What inspired you to become a Debt Free Justice fellow?

When I heard about the opportunity to learn and help make the juvenile justice system better, I had to get a part of it. Knowing my life experience in the system could help youth not make the same mistakes I made. I wanted to be able to learn policy and be a part of helping make the system equal for all youth, no matter their race or financial background, so that I could stand in the gap for young people who don't have a voice and I feel like this fellowship is a step in the right direction for that.

What type of work do you do as a fellow for Debt Free Justice?

The work with Debt Free Justice is surrounded around Participatory Action Research. We are given an opportunity to present to the Department of Juvenile Justice on what we think would help improve the juvenile justice system. We are also learning how to gather research data from our communities and utilizing it to create data to present to our local officials to help improve our youth justice system.

What was the inspiration behind your organization, Under Dawg Nation?

My inspiration is to have programs that help at-risk teens impacted by the juvenile justice system or who live in below-poverty communities and provide them with resources to prevent going into the streets and disengaging from school.

How can interested folks support your organization?

There are plenty of ways that interested folks can support our work. We always seek positive mentors to connect with youth in our mentoring program. Additionally, we are searching for tutors to connect with our youth to help bring them into better education opportunities with our tutoring program. Monetary donations can help support our annual events that create safe spaces for kids to be kids. It takes a village to help our youth in our society.

Deshawn's work reflects our shared vision of a youth justice system that uplifts and empowers young people, helping them overcome challenges and realize their full potential. By sharing his story and experiences, we hope to celebrate his accomplishments and inspire others to join the movement for positive change in youth justice. You can learn more and support Under Dawg Nation here.

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