Peer-to-Peer Justice Impacted Roundtable
Last year, we launched the Peer-to-Peer Justice Impacted Initiative at our West Harlem and Bronx LGBTQ supportive housing sites. Developed by chief program officer Kimberly Marshall with representatives from the Credible Messenger Justice Center, the program is a series of workshops to build leadership skills for current and former residents who want to create change for their communities through peer-to-peer outreach.
Participants develop public speaking, interviewing and community organizing skills—useful for future employment and advocacy. We tailored the program to reflect the communities we serve: homeless young adults, LGBTQ individuals, Black and Brown folks, those affected by mental health and substance use issues, and persons who’ve interacted with the criminal-legal system.
A key goal this year is to expand our peer-to-peer programs of all types. Peer-led workshops increase participation—and foster leadership opportunities.
Former resident Shaun Ingram says of the Peer-to-Peer Justice Impacted Initiative workshops, “Everyone was able to say what they needed to say. No judgment. It was like this open forum where everybody didn’t just respond to respond. People were really listening to understand.”
On October 28, 2022, the group held its first community roundtable discussion at Bronx NeON (Neighborhood Opportunity Network), a transformative community program space sponsored by the NYC Department of Probation. Bronx NeON offers mentoring, art programs, literacy assistance, civic engagement, educational advocacy for young people, and assistance for court-involved residents. The program is led by Abdul Malik, Community Coordinator for the New York City Department of Probation, who shared his own history of incarceration.
Terry and Alex (current Homeward West Harlem residents), Gia and Essence (current Homeward Bronx residents), and former West Harlem resident Shaun participated in the roundtable and led some discussion topics. Tiffany Branch of the Credible Messenger Justice Center moderated a roundtable with 20 attendees, including Homeward NYC residents and staff, local youth, community leaders, and nonprofit leaders working in the areas of healing justice, youth engagement, and assisting court-involved young adults.
Local organizations included H.O.L.L.A.! How Our Lives Link Altogether, the Credible Messenger Justice Center, Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Hub, Healing Ninjas, Getting Out and Staying Out, Public Engagement at The New School, and the New York City Department of Probation.
The riveting discussion was guided by questions from Homeward NYC young adult residents. Gia asked about the role capitalism plays in incentivizing incarceration, particularly in for-profit prisons. Other topics introduced by the residents included mental illness and substance use, hate crimes, and religion and spirituality. About half of the participants were young adults with the other half 40 years’ old or older—prompting fascinating dialogue about generational change.
Hernan from Healing Ninjas remarked on the “intergenerational and intersectional power of the group.” He described his personal history with homophobia, misogyny, and gang involvement—and his work to evolve. “There’s a lot of vulnerability and wisdom in the group… a lot of unpacking hate and anger,” said Hernan. “A lot of the individual level work we need to do is hard.”
One attendee wore a t-shirt that read, “I was once a problem.” Other participants expressed similar sentiments and noted the importance of going back to the communities where you’ve caused harm and doing the work. Said one community leader of the work, “It allowed me to love myself more.”
The roundtable discussion included lunch and networking opportunities. But the vulnerability, acceptance and thoughtful discussion among the diverse community members are what made this gathering so special.
Photos courtesy of the Credible Messenger Justice Center