Although this group only first met the previous week, an outsider would have thought Monday night's gathering was a reunion of old friends. In fact, it was the second session of Raising My Voice, our inaugural Speaker’s Bureau training for formerly incarcerated individuals.
The Speaker’s Bureau is part of our Reentry Faith and Family Circles of Support initiative, a partnership with the Interfaith Center of New York and Network Support Services, generously funded by the J.C. Flowers Foundation. This public speaking and leadership initiative offers individuals who have returned from prison and transformed their lives the opportunity to share their personal narrative to: 1) inspire communities to mobilize around effective reentry policies and practices; 2) “give back” to communities they have harmed by deterring others from walking in their shoes; and 3) develop critical work and leadership skills. Raising My Voice members receive 22 hours of an intensive public speaking training utilizing an 11 session, highly interactive curriculum designed specifically for formerly incarcerated persons. Upon graduation, Raising My Voice members present to faith groups, community organizations, and students, as well as non-traditional audiences such as employers, prosecutors, and law enforcement.
As evidenced from Monday night’s session, Raising My Voice also provides our participants with a strong peer support network. The basement of St. Philip’s was filled with an atmosphere of trust and safety as participants shared deeply personal experiences and in turn, supported one another with positive feedback. In the basement of St. Philip’s, the Speaker’s Bureau participants created their own sanctuary.
|Linda Steele, HCJC Staff Member,facilitates the second |
session of "Raising My Voice."
The core of the evening was spent on 2 minute presentations that participants had prepared in advance. Two of our faith-based volunteers, Eric Sessoms and Nuri Ansari helped out by videotaping the presentations so participants could assess their progress at the end of the program.
With a grant from the J.C Flowers Foundation, the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Interfaith Center of New York and the Network in the Prisons/ Network in the Community Programs (Network Program) have created a partnership with the goal of engaging family members and faith community volunteers to support men and women returning to Harlem from prison. The initiative is called The Family and Faith Reentry Circles of Support Program.
Bina Peltz, author of this blog post, is a student at Princeton University, where she majors in Politics with a focus on the intersection of religion and law and sociology of law. She is a summer intern at the Harlem Community Justice Center's Reentry Program.