Dear Free Minds Friends,
We can’t believe winter is already upon us! This fall has flown by, and our Reentry members have achieved some fabulous milestones in recent months. This Thanksgiving & holiday season, we are so thankful for the opportunity to work with such resilient and motivated youth and to help them foster new skills, support systems, and leadership. And of course, we are filled with gratitude for supporters like you, who help make our initiatives a reality.
Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to recently:
Marymount University Learning Disabilities Conference
In October, Free Minds members were invited to speak at Marymount University of Virginia, for the annual Learning Disabilities Association of Virginia Conference. Free Minds members met with the Department of Education, including administrators and teachers. They read poetry and spoke about their experiences with the education system. By sharing their stories with educators, the Free Minds writers are working with the Department of Education to promote a future where our schools can better understand and serve young people in need. Our members wrote poems just for that day about what support they could have used when they were in school. Read an excerpt from Michael’s poem “Don’t Restrain Ur Mind!” about learning differently:
Was drifting off in class so I was labeled not brightWas flushed down the school to prison pipelineThat’s just not right
So before I let them place the label on me as being dumbBecause of a misperception of how I look and where I’m fromI tune out the naysayers and march on to the sound of my own D.R.U.M.Don’t Restrain Ur Mind!
Probation Officers Presentation
In a Free Minds first, members gave a presentation to probation officers. They spoke about the impact of Free Minds, books, and writing. They each read one of their poems, and one member shared a letter from a young man who is still incarcerated. The probation officers were incredibly moved by the presentation and especially the success stories. Free Minds member Latrae commented on the experience:
"All of us talking to the probation officers showed them that people who have been incarcerated can change. That they won't always be doing the same things that they did before as they might think. I think they were happy to see that."
Social work student forms Free Minds Reentry partnerships
This fall, Free Minds welcomed Heather Galbreath to the Free Minds Family; Heather is pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at Howard University, and doing a year-long internship with Free Minds to help expand our Reentry Support program. Heather and Keela, our Program Manager, are working hard to find job training and educational placements for our members. Heather performs site visits with reentry service providers and works closely with our members to determine which programs are a good fit for them. Heather first met Free Minds when Tara and reentry members spoke at one of her classes at Howard University; now Heather is helping us spread the word and form more partnerships with like-minded organizations!
“Although I have only been here for a short time, working with the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop has been an eye opening experience for me. When you’re a student you often only learn from what you read in a text book or from what you are told by a teacher, but actually being able to work with the population that you’re learning about affords an entirely different education. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to work with Free Minds...” -Heather
On the Same Page events at schools pick up speed
Our On the Same Page violence prevention program has been gaining more momentum lately thanks to our wonderful partnerships with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and the PEN/Faulkner foundation. The program, which brings Free Minds poets into high schools to talk about their writing and the causes and effects of youth incarceration, is an invaluable experience for students and Free Minds members alike. This fall, Free Minds members spoke with nearly 50 students at Washington Metropolitan High School, an alternative public high school. They shared their personal stories of change and inspired students to change their own lives for the better.
Our poets also visited a constitutional law and youth justice class at Cesar Chavez, a charter school located on Capitol Hill. As future change-makers and advocates for youth justice, the students expressed their deep appreciation for the opportunity to hear first-hand about the youth experience in the adult system. After the event, one of the students said, "I appreciate the determination the Free Minds members have, especially towards the community." Our reentry member Mike, who spoke at Cesar Chavez, told us about why reaching out to high school students is so powerful to him:
“I like doing On the Same Page because I get to show the youngin’s how to express their feelings through poetry and talking rather than putting a hand on someone. I share my personal experiences so they can learn from my mistakes and run with it. One of the big problems today is that there are no role models out here for these youngin’s. I like to help other people, and not enough people do that out here.”-Mike
We’ve seen such a change in Mike since he first started in the book club. Then, he was dealing with his anger over his family members’ addiction problems and losing his siblings to the foster care system. Now, with the tools of reading and writing to help him process his own emotions, he is able to help other kids going through similar experiences. Way to go, Mike!
Your generous support provides the resources to help more young men like Mike to find employment or education, express themselves through writing and public speaking, and turn their lives in a positive direction. THANK YOU from all of us at Free Minds for believing in the transformative power of writing!
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