Sep 2, 2009

Harry Belafonte Delivers Keynote Address to Graduates of Harlem Reentry Program

Yesterday the Harlem Parole Reentry Court held a graduation event to celebrate those parolees who have completed the six-month program. The Harlem Parole Reentry Court opened in 2001 with the goal of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism among parolees returning to East and Central Harlem. The Reentry Court, a project of Center for Court Innovation in collaboration with the New York State Division of Parole, works with parolees during the first six months of their release to promote law-abiding behavior. The Reentry Court provides on-going judicial monitoring before an Administrative Law Judge, case management, linkages to critical services, and the use of graduated sanctions and rewards to respond to setbacks and achievements.

Last night was a very special graduation. To a packed room our keynote speaker the legendary Harry Belafonte, who was joined by his wife Julie, delivered a passionate and positive message of perseverance in the face of struggle. "I was born in Harlem and still live in Harlem", he said, as he described the many opportunities that came to him. He talked about his own personal story of returning from service at the end of WWII and honing his acting craft through the American Negro Theater in Harlem were he developed life long friendships with great actors like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Sydney Poitier. He highlighted the many ways that the community “wrapped itself around him” in the form of the many mentors and friends he was privileged to know including Dr. King and Ma lcolm X.

He spoke about the plight of a five year–old African-American girl in Florida in March of 2007 who was handcuffed and arrested at school because she was “acting out.” After many years of fighting for human rights in America, he saw the plight of the Florida girl as a call to fight anew against the continued injustice of the American criminal justice system. Since 2007 he has led the development of The Gathering for Justice and committed himself to organizing around the problems faced by men and women who are in prison and gang involved.

The graduates, their families and guests left inspired!
To hear a podcast of the event click here