In mid-May, ten young people in CASES’ education and employment services boarded an early-morning bus from our Harlem office and headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a day at Harvard University.
The visit was organized by Edyson Julio, a teacher in CASES’ high school equivalency (HSE) exam classes who was recently admitted for graduate study at Harvard. Mr. Julio moderated a panel, Reimagining Punishment in the 21st Century & The Merits of Prison Education, that included a CASES youth participant.
Held at the Gutman Conference Center in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, the panel featured a discussion of the difficulties of reintegrating in the community following the release from prison as well as potential solutions. The panel included Akeem Browder, the brother of Kalief Browder, who was held at Rikers Island for three years while awaiting charges related to a stolen backpack that were ultimately dismissed. The panel discussed Mr. Browder’s traumatic experience at Rikers, including long stints in solitary confinement, and the challenges he faced once back in the community and that contributed to his tragic suicide.
After the panel discussion, trip participants attended a Know Your Rights seminar led by a student at Harvard Law School. The seminar focused on police practices and educated the participants on recourse in the event that a law enforcement agent violates their constitutional rights. The trip also included a lengthy tour of the Harvard campus.
The trip gave CASES youth the opportunity to visit one of America’s most-revered academic institutions and, through the panel conversation, to share their own unique expertise with and field questions from Harvard graduate students. The experience—and the knowledge that a close mentor, Mr. Julio, will soon be making his own journey from growing up in the Bronx to attending Harvard—proved both affirming and motivational.
“I think they see me as some version of themselves, and if I was admitted, they also feel like they could get in,” said Mr. Julio.
Reflecting on this experience, one participant said, “Visiting Harvard was the best experience of my academic life.”