13 Women Who Overcame Incredible Obstacles have Earned Masters, Bachelors, and Associates Degrees with Help of College & Community Fellowship
Melissa Harris-Perry, Political Analyst and Educator, Addresses Graduates During Keynote Speech
NEW YORK – Thirteen formerly incarcerated women were honored Thursday at College & Community Fellowship’s (CCF) 16th annual graduation celebration in Manhattan. The four Masters degree recipients, eight Bachelors degree recipients, and one Associates degree recipient earned their diplomas this year from institutions such as Lehman College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Fordham University – all with the help of CCF, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women who had contact with the criminal justice system earn college degrees.
Each graduate overcame incredible obstacles to get from prison uniforms to caps and gowns. More than two-thirds of incarcerated people are re-arrested within three years of release – but to date, the women helped by CCF have earned more than 300 degrees, and less than 2% have gone back to prison in the organization’s 16 years of operation.
Headed by Executive Director Vivian Nixon, a formerly incarcerated individual and former CCF graduate, CCF helps women who’ve been through the criminal justice system obtain a higher education, which has been proven to reduce recidivism and help create engaged members of society.
“I know firsthand how difficult it was for these women to get to where they are today. For the past 16 years, CCF has been proud to act as a consistent resource for formerly incarcerated women looking to better their lives through higher education, and we look forward to celebrating the successes of our graduates for years to come,” said Nixon.
For Amy Stone, the 2016 CCF valedictorian and recent summa cum laude graduate of Lehman College, the ceremony marks the beginning of the rest of her life.
“I was incarcerated while pregnant with my son, and knew I had to turn my life around for his sake. But it wasn’t until I found CCF and the path to a college degree that I was able to make that life a reality,” said Stone. “Now, instead of living in and out of homeless shelters and working low-wage jobs, I’m a college graduate with a fulfilling career, and am already enrolled and ready to pursue my Masters. CCF never let me give up on myself – and that’s a lesson I will take with me far past graduation.”
At the ceremony, the graduates were joined by Keynote Speaker Melissa Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair, Director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University and Author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.
“I am honored to serve as the graduation speaker for College and Community Fellowship, “said Harris-Perry. “All of us need second chances, and most of us need third, fourth, and fifth chances too! The women of CCF have faced high walls and deep rivers standing between themselves and a college education, but they have worked to overcome those barriers with strength of purpose few of us can imagine. Usually when I serve as a speaker I give the graduates words of inspiration; in this case I might be asking them women of CCF for advice, because it is they who inspire me.”