Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Star in Harlem


Last night I had the good fortune of attending the latest reentry court graduation in Harlem. It was, as always, a moving event. Finding a job, getting sober, repairing damaged family relationships -- these are difficult tasks even in the best of circumstances. When you throw a criminal record (and the pressures of parole supervision) into the mix, the degree of difficulty becomes almost unimaginable.

Amazingly, the graduates of the Harlem Reentry Court have managed to navigate all of these obstacles and more. Last night's graduating class included managers at Applebee's, small businessmen, and students at local colleges. To my ears, the most remarkable part of the event was the passion and pride of the parole officers, each of whom spoke with real affection about the parolees and their accomplishments.

Speaking of passion, the keynote address was delivered by none other than Harry Belafonte, who talked about his career not as a performer but as an advocate of social change. As anyone in the audience can attest, age seems to have diminished none of Belafonte's eloquence or charisma.

A small footnote for avid readers of this blog (and who isn't an avid reader of this blog?): you might recall that my very first posting was about Chris meeting Harry Belafonte back in March 2008. It took more than a year, but Chris succeeded in bringing Belafonte to the Justice Center. The result was an evening that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who was there. Congrats to Chris, John, Nigel and the rest of the team in Harlem.