radically reimagining institutions of higher education

As I think about how I might honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of those who relentlessly struggled for justice, I recall my pastor Rev. Julian DeShazier‘s invitation to the faith community at University Church Chicago.  On MLK Sunday, he invited us to share how we might contribute our gifts, talents and resources toward bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice. 

Rev. Julian reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe does not simply bend toward justice.  We have to bend it.” 

For almost 4 years, I have been holding on to a vision of re-entry education that is radically different from what we have today. With Rev. Julian’s invitation in mind, today, I am sharing this vision with the world.

Before I leave this world, I want to see reentry colleges sprout up across the country. I am NOT talking about our current movement to reform academic institutions so that they are inclusive of people with criminal records. This is important and necessary work, but not the work I am speaking of here. I am Not speaking about re-enty programs. They are important and necessary programs but not the work I am speaking of here.  

I am speaking about radically reimagining institutions of higher education. I am talking about creating something new.   

I am speaking about creating institutions of higher education that intentionally and from inception center the needs and experiences of people returning to society from jails and prisons. Centering the needs of formerly incarcerated people also includes tending to the needs of the families that support them upon release.  

I am imagining a world where prior to someone’s release from jail or prison, they have the option of applying to re-entry institutions of higher learning that center their needs and unique experiences.  

I am imagining a world where when someone is released from prison, they are released to a college classroom, student housing with access to workstudy programs, healthcare, mental health services, financial support, and quality higher education.

I am imagining a world where formerly incarcerated students are learning from educators that look like them and surrounded by a community of peers that share in their lived-experience.

In this imagined world, children and spouses join formerly incarcerated students, living in student housing with access to healthcare benefits and quality education.  

I am imagining a world where halfway houses are replaced by institutions of re-entry higher education.

When I imagine the possibilities of educational reparations, this is only a glimmer of the vision. This is part of the purpose work that I’ve been called to co-create in the world.  And, I do not intend to leave this earth until seeds have been planted and watered and they burst into seedlings. This is my baton passing justice work.

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