357 Days: Family Matters Celebration

By: Nicole, Riley’s Way Council Member, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Approximately 357 days had passed since our Sisterhood Dinner with the women of the Talk2ME and Circles of Support groups at St. Phillips Church in Harlem of 2018. On May 21st of 2019, we gathered with many of the same women, like Wanda and Melinda, along with many new faces, and the women’s families. This dinner, our Family Matters Celebration, was meant to build a better understanding and connection with the women and their families who have been impacted by incarceration.

Enjoying dinner and conversations

I met with Melinda’s family, her two sons Elijah (17) and Ethan (10) were a pleasure to meet. They told my table and I about the difficulties they felt as children growing up with a father who was previously incarcerated, “It’s hard you know, it’s just so hard” Elijah told us, the oldest of the two sons. Elijah spoke about how he doesn’t need friends or people with similar experiences to understand his story, all he needs is someone who is willing to listen and who is empathetic. So, we did just that, Damaris, Scarlet and I, and all of Riley’s Way Council members listened. We talked about Elijah’s love for football, their father coming back from prison, and Ethan’s piano playing. I was able to connect with Ethan, who loves to dance to afrobeats, by talking to him about my school’s step team Harambee (who also attended the event), and later performed for him and rest of our guests. That’s what made this event so memorable. Not only were we able to connect with the women and their families, we were also able to better understand their experiences and their life beyond their connection to incarceration, forming meaningful connections.

Performance of TYWLS of East Harlem Step Team

We want to hear their stories, and have them feel that they are more than just a family who has been impacted by incarceration. They are, in every way possible, worthy of being accepted into society without judgment. In our Family Matters Celebration, everyone was able to connect to each other in some way, the 357 days didn’t make a difference. We were all able to pick up our conversations where we left them, everyone approaching new and familiar faces like a friend.