Men of Color Symposium Focuses on Post-Incarceration Challenges

By Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College

July 23, 2015

Provost Ntoko with men of color symposium speaker

SUNY Empire State College provost Alfred Ntoko (left) with ESC Education for All faculty advisor Jim Wunsch (right)

The city of Newburgh, N.Y. hosted a SUNY Empire State College special symposium addressing issues facing Men of Color after incarceration. Student group ESC Education for All organized From Crisis to Triumph: A Men of Color Symposium as part of their continuous efforts to increase awareness about various social challenges that can negatively affect an individual’s ability to attain a college education.

From Crisis to Triumph: A Men of Color Symposium was sponsored by multiple SUNY Empire State College regional locations, including Hudson Valley, Metropolitan, Long Island and the School for Graduate Studies. ESC Education for All faculty advisor, Jim Wunsch, joined co-chairs Omar Richards and Tanya Thompson in welcoming symposium panelists and participants. During the opening, Thompson invited symposium participants to applaud SUNY Empire State College President Merodie Hancock and Provost Alfred Ntoko “for their concerted efforts to make the college an innovative and socially conscious higher education institution.” When addressing the audience, Ntoko encouraged similar future projects at the college, saying, “We need to expand this across Empire.”

The college’s student groups also supported the symposium. Metropolitan student Lisa Hill and members of the Human Services Collaborative (formerly 40 Plus and Fabulous) provided essential assistance with making sure the event’s venue, St. George’s Church, was prepared for panelists and guests. Minority Students in Action provided their tee shirts for distribution.

ESC Education for All co-chairs Omar Richards and Tanya Thompson disseminated requests to numerous activists working with incarcerated and post-incarcerated populations to share their perspectives, experiences, and offer some prospective solutions to assuage the adverse effects of a prison record on the ability to enter and achieve educational goals at college. The result of their endeavors was a two-panel symposium comprised of SUNY Empire State College students, community activists, and city political leaders. “What Tanya accomplished was pretty amazing,” said Minority Students in Action president Layla Abdullah-Poulos “because of her tireless dedication, people from all over New York state converged to learn about and find solutions for an issue that disproportionately affects Men of Color. This is something that also concerns MSiA, and we are happy to assist in any way we can.”

Men of Color Symposium, collage of speakers

Men of Color Panelists: Glen E. Martin (top left), Ato Williams (top right), Onaje Benjamin (middle right), Anibal Cortes (bottom far left, Abdul-Lateef Poulos (left), Darius McClearn (right), and Corey Green (far right)

The symposium’s Men of Color Panelists consisted of activists who work with men and women during and after incarceration. Keynote speaker Glenn E. Martin of JustLeadershipUSA (JULSA) reflected on social obstacles presented to Men of Color. “When you are told who you are in this country, it is really hard to undo that.” Martin inspired the audience to think beyond common generalizations about the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. CUNY Graduate Center doctoral candidate Corey Green concentrated on the implications of poverty, inequality, and restricted access to education. Long Island Location student Abdul-Lateef Poulos addressed the significance of self-awareness development to minimize the potential of recidivism. Additional panelists included Onaje Benjamin, Anibal Cortes, Decarius McClearn, and Ato Williams.

The Community Speaks panel included Elder Stacy Burks, who talked about the importance of proactive intervention with the youth to stem the tide of incarceration. The son of Newburgh City Council member Gay Lee spoke on behalf of his mother about increasing employment opportunities and economic development. Co-founder of Financing Your Freedom Cory Allen stressed the importance of financial education to avoid imprisonment and recidivism. Theo Harris shared his from crisis to triumph story. Harris explained how he went from repeated incarceration to becoming a college graduate, author, singer, and theatrical artist. Lillie Howard conveyed the importance of education to mitigate potential incarceration. School for Graduate Studies student Layla Abdullah-Poulos presented the adverse effects of parental incarceration on children of the imprisoned.

The symposium ended with an open floor discussion with community members and a call to action. Symposium participants expressed their appreciation for the symposium and anticipation for future events. ESC Education for All has provided a space to develop social awareness and demonstrating SUNY Empire State College’s commitment communal development and academic excellence.

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