Illinois Humanities hosts discussion on mass incarceration

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 An array of Illinois organizers, artists and community members attended a webinar  focused on community based strategies to address racial issues in the legal system. 

The webinar  began with a video premiere, which showcased discussions among members of the Carbondale community who have been affected by mass incarceration. The video was produced by Illinois Humanities in partnership with VAM STUDIO. 

Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities, said a conversation about the justice system is critical in order to build the community and strengthen civil engagement. 

The video premiere was followed by a panel discussion about the incarceration system, and how it disproportionately affects people of color, especially Black people..

 Topics that were touched upon included how the incarceration system is designed to make people disappear, how generations of Black people are imprisoned together, which results in families being in the same prison, and the rising number of women that are incarcerated, which leads to some of them giving birth in prison.

 The panel members also shared their mechanisms of activism and community tools to inform others of the many resources that are available and different ways that one can contribute to a cause that benefits the Carbondale community. 

Kim Henry, a mental health and substance abuse counselor in the Carbondale community, has 20 years of experience working with the incarceration system with a focus on the long term impact that imprisonment has on the offender and their family.

 “I have a loved one that’s been incarcerated for 24 years,” Henry said. “We can march, and do everything we want to do. But until we get senators, mayors, and those people out, there’s not going to be any real change.”

Quianya Enge, a community navigator and educator, is the executive director of Beyond the Walls, a mobile resource unit created to help aid individuals who have been directly impacted by incarceration. 

“It’s very important to me that we know our rights and responsibilities as community members,” said Enge. “We need to know that this system was set up to dismantle the power of the black community. So, when we go into those spaces, and we are communicating, and we’re talking to them, we need to go in there with action steps as well.”

Micheal Coleman, a student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale  studying Political Science, serves as committee member for the Rainbow Café, an LGBTQ resource center in Carbondale. 

Coleman said, “I feel that a lot of people who are marginalized aren’t very well versed in a lot of their rights.. that’s something that’s very needed especially when you have an interaction with a police officer.”

Nick Smailigo, a graduate student at SIU-C who studies Philosophy, is a founding member of Flyover Social Center and the Carbondale Spring. The Carbondale Spring is a local grassroots organization that promotes redirecting municipal funds toward community based initiatives. 

“I think it’s really important when we talk about mass incarceration to understand that, it wasn’t an accident that this happened, and that this was the US government’s political response to the Black Freedom Movement,” said Smailigo. 

Richard Neal Bey, a social justice activist, has been working in urban communities throughout the state to address issues such as alcoholism and gang violence. He works with an amateur cycling program for children with cancer and also a bike group for children in the Carbondale community. 

“There’s so much to cover,” Bey said. “If we all start with our local groups in our local areas, from there we can make a change.”

Meredith Nnoka, Envisioning Justice Fellow, facilitated the discussions. Chastity Mays, assistant director of non-profit organization Gift of Love Charity, helped facilitate the discussion among the panelists following the video presentation. 

Staff reporter Kiersten Owens can be reached at kowens@dailyegyptian.com. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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October 31, 2021 at 01:06PM

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