In January of 2017, I became an intern at the Charles H. Wright Museum where I began as part of the curatorial staff. This position consisted primarily of the documentation and digitization of the Museum’s priceless artifacts. However, after a few months of working with the curatorial staff, I was approached about an intern position with the Vice President of Public Programs. I eventually found myself helping to developing a prison outreach program in coalition with the NAACP Prison Branch of Macomb County Correctional Facility. This grew out of a request from the inmates who wanted to access to an African centered approach to education for themselves, and some of the other inmates whom they’ve mentored. Our students are predominantly Black, and all males between the ages of 21 and 60.
The NAACP prison branch is doing some amazing things there at the facility, that is the inside organization that we are partnering with to bring about this program. The branch members act as mentors and educators, and give guidance to the younger brothers within the general population. They seem to be reaching alot of brothers there on the inside. It is quite a spectacular sight to see. Brother Bantu is the NAACP Prison Branch President, and also my contact. He has been doing a phenomenal job as Branch President. His organization and leadership skills far surpass those of many in my master’s program. And still, surviving under the most oppressive conditions, relatable to slavery itself, these brothers are still kind, they smile, and embrace each other with respect and dignity. Notice the intentional language that I am using to refer to the inmates, that is because we must first see the humanity within these individuals if we are going to be a part of their rehabilitation process.
Our first program began in January with Dr. David Goldberg of Wayne State. Dr. Goldberg touched in the D.R.U.M movement, General Baker, and other political events pertaining particularly to the city of Detroit. The students loved the presentation. Last month Ollie Dr. Johnson of Wayne State gave an excellent presentation for the Black History Month program, where he spoke on the socioeconomic conditions of Black people in Cuba and Brazil. We had roughly 100 inmates in attendance. My first meeting with the brothers consisted of around 10 members, then grew to roughly around 30. I am anticipating a little more as the Black History Month program reached a larger audience who may be interesting in joining the program.
This year’s black history month celebration at the facility had the largest turnout since they begin having these celebrations a few years ago. I like to think that the museum’s partnership with the NAACP prison branch played a crucial role in increasing inmate participation. Young brothers came and presented on topics they had researched, such as Black Wall Street, and the cultural origins of the swastika symbol as it related to ancient indigenous civilizations. There was also a music performance, where a brother performed a beautiful song critiquing the educational system, and government influence on Black Communities.
Our efforts at the prison so far have been met with great appreciation by the community at the facility, and we hope to continue to grow this relationship as the program continues to flourish. We endeavor to help inspire, educate, and uplift our brothers, those whom have been forgotten by society, and relegated to the peripherals under the most extreme and oppressive conditions. As far as the structure of my final project, it will be a mixture of Powerpoint, Service Learning Project structure, and Traditional Academic Paper outlining my experience with this program within a social work context, highlighting best practice methods using a historical and contemporary lens, highlight the importance of African Centered Education within predominantly Black communities, and how educational practices within the prisons reduce recidivism rates.