New Beginnings

By Natalie Mesnard, EJP Writer and Editor

May 9, 2014

Welcome back to the Education Justice Project’s weekly blog! After a brief hiatus, the blog will now be returning with regular updates and information about EJP. I’ve recently joined EJP as an in-house writer and editor, so I’ll be reporting to you here on what’s current with this exciting project; we also anticipate bringing to you a number of “guest” blogs by all members of the EJP community—students, instructors, tutors, and alumni.

The crowd moves and gathers inside the Art Theater at EJP's annual fundraising benefit.
The crowd moves and gathers inside the Art Theater at EJP’s annual fundraising benefit.

On April 17, the Education Justice Project held its annual fundraising benefit at the Art Theater in Champaign. This cooperatively owned theater served as a wonderful venue for the event, where a 10-minute video about EJP was screened for the first time. The video was produced by Anne Lukeman and Anna Zorn via the University of Illinois’ Creative Services department, and communicated a powerful message about the importance of prison education. As I listened to the voices of current and past EJP students and instructors, and director Rebecca Ginsburg, I was moved by the strength of purpose and depth of emotion that so plainly holds EJP together. Luckily enough, this video is available in entirety on YouTube. You may view it by clicking here.

Following the video presentation, a number of small talks and presentations took place. Andrea Olinger read from “Winter Harvest,” a bound publication of EJP student writing. Perry Benson Jr., the coordinator for EJP’s FACE (Family and Community Engagement) program, also spoke.

Jobie Taylor (left) and Edmund Buck (right) speak in the Art Theater lobby.
Jobie Taylor (left) and Edmund Buck (right) speak in the Art Theater lobby.

Near the end of the evening, three EJP alumni, Edmund Buck, Quinton Neal, and Jobie Taylor, who were kind enough to travel to Urbana for the event, provided a panel discussion on their experiences as EJP students. Quinton spoke about the “hunger” of the mind, and the satisfaction of education; following his exit from DCC, Quinton has initiated the development of a mentorship program. Jobie said EJP “opened up communication” for him, allowing bonds of friendship to develop across ethnic and cultural borders. Edmund talked about being “transformed” when he realized there was “a group who actually cared” about him, and people like him.

Director Rebecca Ginsburg and conference attendees.
Director Rebecca Ginsburg and conference attendees.

The evening was warm and collegial. I was pleased to meet and speak with Edmund and Jobie at the end of the event, both of whom were kind and welcoming, in spite of my newness to this close-knit and vibrant community. I also had a very interesting conversation with Anne and Anna, the producers of the EJP video. These two women, who have never been to DCC, spoke with great emotion about the process of reviewing footage as they edited and composed the film. At times, they said, they were “in tears” as they witnessed emotional scenes taking place at the prison in real time. EJP, I am finding, has a way of affecting all of its community members—even those who only briefly come into contact with what the program is and does.

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