Block parties are classic city summer traditions, conjuring up images of laughing children, loud music, and plentiful picnic food. They are a celebration of community; a chance to set aside daily responsibilities and enjoy being together under the sun. CCF’s 2016 Back to School block party will fulfill this purpose, offering free food and games, backpacks with school supplies for neighborhood children, and an abundance of family-aimed entertainment. There will be a DJ, hip-hop performances, and maple syrup-themed food served by the farm-to-truck Snowday Food Truck.
What makes CCF’s block party stand out is that it intends to foster education as well as celebration. There will be a dance competition and a spelling bee, both with prizes. The Snowday Food Truck, which calls itself “a vehicle for social justice,” is a non-profit run by formerly incarcerated youth. CCF, the New York Public Library, New York Probation, the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, and other Harlem community organizations dedicated to social change will have tables with their mission and contact information. The day will raise awareness about justice issues just as much as it will raise spirits.
CCF’s block party is as important as it is fun precisely because it blends these two themes together. When there are over 53,000 people currently incarcerated in New York state prisons, it is counter-intuitive that incarceration remains stigmatized. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families already face countless practical hardships, such as barriers to housing, employment, and education, as well as legal costs and transportation and telephone expenses. However, many also face considerable stigma, and out of fear of being ostracized may choose to hide their burden of incarceration.
CCF’s block party is a way for formerly incarcerated women or people with formerly incarcerated family members to learn about our work without having to expose their own relationship with the justice system. Everyone is welcome at the block party, and everyone is welcome to learn more about CCF without revealing anything about themselves. The block party’s mission mirrors CCF’s: to make information and education accessible without barriers or judgement.
Making potentially life-changing resources such as access to education, financial aid, mental and career counseling open and available helps formerly incarcerated women avoid stigma when seeking them out. It also serves to lessen the stigma itself by normalizing incarceration and the struggles of reentry. Mass incarceration affects too many people’s lives, with too much arbitrariness and injustice, for it to be treated as a consequence of personal failure. Block parties are about community, and so is the work for social reform and justice.
The post was written by EIO Member Emma Hattemer.