Usher: “education is something that has definitely been a focus for me and I’ve advocated for it with regards to you but when I heard an opportunity to be here I always talked about disruptive innovation and the fact that you know these inmates have been able to have this incredible moment this moment I wanted to not only be here to a lot of cameras to see it but also to to be supportive of him and them education is the key to unlocking any potential to success and that’s part of the reason why we’re here celebrating these men who’ve uh you know unfortunately had a turn for the worse but made it incredibly beautiful as he said you know the incarceration system is unjust you know and I and I feel like in many ways the depression and the lack thereof hope that settles in after doing time could lead you to feel as though there is no end there’s no there’s no positive restart but that’s not true if you look at this and look at these men but now many of the inmates I’ve spoken to they’re going to be out in another 30-80 days this right here having this education underneath their belt definitely moves them in a positive direction but also gives them something to stand on they’d be able to have spent this time and still have something substantial.
Belafonte is at this graduation consistently and sums up his lifelong activism this way.
I’ll slow down when oppression slows down I think that as long as there’s a need for my voice and his boys and the boys of all of us were involved with incarceration system the overabundance and african-americans in prison in the largest prison population in the world I think we were going to bless like opportunity and good fortune. I think payback and become involved and to make sure that our young people do not go through his process.
We also sat down with one of the speaker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative journalist George Will:
Dominic: “George will I’m a bit shocked that you’re here today”
George Will “why are you shocked?”
Dominic Carter: “well one considering your stature as a columnist, as a television personality and you’re here in New York at sing-sing prison addressing graduates, prison inmates.”
“I’m a journalist so I go where the news is and this is news it is news if there is this program to help people get ready to reenter society it’s news that society ought to be interested in. I don’t care where you stand on the question of mass incarceration and all the rest most people who go to prison are coming out and a lot of them are coming out improved by the experience of being in prison this is a program of Sing Sing and elsewhere in the New York correctional system that makes it more likely that people are going to come out encrypt with skills and with a self-esteem to prosper on the outside so this is important to you this is is important not just to me this is important to the country this is a cut this is important to every community that is going to whether it wants to or not welcome back former prison inmates into their into their society.” – George WIll
Dominic Carter: what is the message of the day I mean you are a national and international columnist what is the message coming out of this as far as you’re concerned
“the message is that second chances work you know the great novelist F scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life, wrong everyone has second acts and these people are heading for a second act it’s as simple as that not simple and it’s not easy but it’s possible. – George Will
Dr. Samuel Arroya was released from prison in 2004:
Dominic Carter: “Dr. Arroya you earned the first Hudson link doctorate.”
Dr. Arroya: “yes I did.”
Dominic Carter: “and yet early this morning you were here setting up proud as a peacock setting up the arrangements for the graduates the soon-to-be graduates why?”
“I take pride in that I think that the men are appreciated they need to see someone come back especially someone like me after serving nearly 14 and 1/3 third years in prison and going home and getting my doctorate is important for me to come back and be a role model to these men.” – Dr. Arroya
Mary Donnolly has been the academic coordinator at Sullivan Correctional Facility for seven years:
“Taxpayers arent paying for this and even if they were which they’re not Hudson link is a nonprofit organization, all of our classes are paid for by donations or grants, but even if the taxpayers did contribute to any of this, most of these men are going to go home and do you want them to go home the same way they came in or do you want them to go home as productive members of society? where they become taxpayers they become better fathers better husband’s better people just in in general and it’s evident Just in you can see it in their faces when they get their degree you know you know that this is a man who’s finally proud of themselves.” – Mary Donnolly
and we come back to the families, Cheryl Seabrooks watched her son Ivan graduating”
Dominic Carter: “Cheryl Seabrooks you live in Brooklyn but your son has been incarcerated here at Sing Sing for the last 14 years how do you feel today”
“oh I’m proud I’m like why not I’m proud he’s doing what he’s doing here I’m not proud that he’s in here but I’m proud of what he achieved while he’s here and not yet like I said doing nothing so when he does come up for parole he does have something that they can look seeing that he just wasn’t being nothing person that he was trying to improve his life and better himself.” – Cheryl Seabrooks
Dominic Carter: “Kivana Seabrooks your dad graduated today how do you feel?”
“ I’m happy my father’s doing what he has to do, very proud.” – Kivana
“I work inside with institutions as well here in New York on in sing-sing in California and I’m mercy prison in LA County Jail talking to the brothers and sisters who had to also know that there’s life after death and result everybody am I coming in here I think we take the sting off the fact that we are ignoring that was prison population, and you shouldn’t.” Belafonte Commented.
Usher commented, “well I think he just put it very simply and very eloquent I’m a student and you know this work that I’ve have taken is a passion it’s the hard work for me there is the hard work that comes with the success being an entertainer but then the responsibility that comes with it. it’s just as important and I’m here to learn.
“You know Dominic you’ve been to several graduations I know about it too but if you want to talk polar opposites politically and in every way Harry Belafonte who’s as liberal as much of an activist as your vines and George Will abutton up conservative, but they’re on the same page on this issue. And we’ve seen you know Steve Forbes and we’ve seen you know Sean Penn the same kind of thing, two people couldn’t be more not alike but they all agree that it’s good business and it’s also just good humanity I guess that if these guys get out and they’re going to get out to keep them out.”
“No doubt about it Richard, George Will, very naturally known conservative made it clear that this was as you saw in the interview, that this was important to him he told us he flew in the night before just to be here and yeah I was just shocked to actually see George Will at this type of graduation of predominantly men of color. african-americans, latinos you know some whites, but predominantly African Americans and Latinos. and to this point a point that you have made a point that I have learned to make a point that many people I just wish that the entire public could see this graduation it’s not a regular graduation.
“WIth that point Dominic I’ve learned is you have to, when they’re getting the degrees, to take your eyes off the front of the stage but to look at the families. and I know you introduced us to Michael Brown, yes you also met with his family like so many yes this is where they get to stand up straight they’re proud of their son for the first time in many cases, or their father or their loved one. I’m glad that’s what you just did in terms of standing up strong for the first time in their lives dealing with their loved ones that have been incarcerated they are able to stand up tall. So Michael Brown saying that he was so high on life at the graduation it was almost like he was not in prison. and so for Mr. Brown’s uncle to be there, his mother visit him every two weeks coming from Manhattan’s Lower East Side up to Sing Sing but also his girlfriend, soon to be his fiancee. So things are turning around for him hopefully things will continue to move and hopefully as his program has shown the guys stay out of prison which is probably the most important thing. Dominic, great job thank you.”