Writing Workshop: Poetry and Protest Movements | Apply Now

Fall Writing Workshop: Poetry & Protest Movements

June Jordan (1936-2002) was a political activist and poet who founded “Poetry for the People Workshops” while teaching at UC Berkeley. She believed that poetry is a communal and easy-to-use art form. In memory of June Jordan’s work, Christopher Soto was invited by Columbia University to teach a community-based writing workshop that serves both the Columbia University student body and also members of the surrounding community in Harlem. Although all applications will be considered, youth ages 16-18 in the Harlem area will be be giving strong consideration. Over the span of 8 weeks, participants of the workshops will be reading about contemporary American poetry that has supplemented various protest movements in the 20th and 21st centuries. Workshop participants will also be writing and editing their own poems during this course.


Application Deadline: September 22, 2017

Cost: Free

Workshops will take place on Columbia’s campus


Dates and Times:

Monday, Oct 16 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Oct 23 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Oct 30 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Nov 6 | No Class

Monday, Nov 13 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Nov 20 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Nov 27 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Dec 4 | 7pm-9pm

Monday, Dec 11 | 7pm-9pm


Application Process:


Please email 5-7 pages of poetry in a word document. Also include a title page, which states your name, address, age, and a short statement (3-4 sentences) about any writing experience that you have or that you would like to gain.


About the Instructor:

Christopher Soto (b. 1991, Los Angeles) is a poet based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of “Sad Girl Poems” (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) and the editor of “Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color” (Nightboat Books, 2018). He cofounded the Undocupoets Campaign and worked with Amazon Literary Partnerships to establish grants for undocumented writers.  In 2017, he was awarded “The Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism” by Split This Rock. In 2016, Poets & Writers honored Christopher Soto with the “Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award.” He frequently writes book reviews for the Lambda Literary Foundation. His poems, reviews, interviews, and articles can be found at The Nation, The Guardian, The Advocate, Los Angeles Review of Books, American Poetry Review, Tin House, and more. His work has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese. He received his MFA in poetry from NYU, where he was a Goldwater Hospital Writing Workshop Fellow.

New York Times Op-Ed from Dr. Carl Hart, Chair, Department of Psychology

The Real Opioid Emergency


Every Friday evening, with sadness and with pride, I make a 90-minute trek from Columbia University to Sing Sing Correctional Facility to teach a drugs and behavior course. My students, who are bright and predominantly black, enthusiastically engage with the curriculum, not least because some of them have a personal stake in the subject. Several are serving time for a drug-related offense, as are hundreds of thousands of other Americans….


Read Full Article in New York Times


March for Justice

Join our partners at Alliance of Families for Justice


The March for Justice is an undertaking by the Alliance of Families for Justice–NY (AFJ-NY) to bring attention to human rights abuses in New York State prisons and jails. The March will start in New York City on August 26, 2017, and culminate in a press conference and rally in Albany on Sept. 13, 2017, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica uprising and massacre. Read the March for Justice Executive Summary.

Tentative March Schedule
Some towns will change–final route will be posted here soon
* means confirmed:

Day 1, Sat. August 26: Harlem*→Bronx*
National Black Theatre, Harlem, NY. Get flyer.
Day 2, Sun., August 27: Bronx*→Yonkers*
Day 3, Mon., August 28: Yonkers*→White Plains*
Day 4, Tues., August 29: White Plains*→Tarrytown*
Day 5, Weds., August 30: Tarrytown*→Ossining*
Day 6, Thurs., August 31: Ossining*→Peekskill*


Click here to see the entire March Schedule 




The Beyond the Bars Fellowship offers students and community members an interdisciplinary leadership development program to develop and deepen their identity, analysis, skills and network towards ending mass incarceration and creating a more just and safe world. Through seminars, workshops and guest lectures Fellows explore their own experiences and identities as people working for social change; gain a theoretical and practical understanding of mass incarceration; and are introduced to various models of social change including community organizing, legislative advocacy, messaging and communications and more.  In addition Fellows work together with the Center for Justice and the Criminal Justice Caucus to organize the annual Beyond the Bars Conference on ending mass incarceration and realizing social justice. The Fellowship is made up of both Students and Community members and our aim is to work collaboratively with the University and Community towards social change

Is the Fellowship Right for me?

We aim to bring together Columbia University students with the larger NYC community to create a diverse and rich learning environment that can be mutually beneficial to all Fellows. We encourage people impacted (directly and indirectly) by mass incarceration to apply. Please note that extensive experience is not a requirement.

What will you gain?

  • Leadership Development: Participate in regular seminars, workshops and guest lectures and deepen your understanding of yourself as well as develop your understanding of justice issues and your capacity to enact change.
  • Organizing Experience: Work collaboratively to help organize the annual Beyond the Bars Conference
  • A Community of Mentors and Colleagues: The Fellowship is an intentional and experiential learning community that will support your growth as a social justice advocate.

All applicants should meet the following:

  • Have a desire to be a part of group learning environment
  • Demonstrated enthusiasm for social justice.
  • Commitment to fulfill all requirements of the Fellowship

Columbia Fellows should be Current Columbia student enrolled at least half-time in an undergraduate or graduate program.

Community Fellows are not enrolled at Columbia University. We encourage applicants who are not students or have not attended college to apply. Students from other colleges / universities are welcome to apply.


The priority application deadline is Monday August 21st.  After that we will be accepting applications on a rolling basis until Monday August 28th.



  • 1 page cover letter including:
    • Why you are interested in becoming a Beyond the Bars Fellow
    • What you hope to gain from the Fellowship
    • An assessment of your strengths and challenges
  • Resume/CV

Application Process  

July 28th: Application Period Opens
August 21st: Priority Application Deadline
August 28th: Application Period Closes
August 28th- Sept 7th – Interviews
September14th: Accepted Applicants are Notified
September 21st: Fellowship Starts

Tentative Fellowship Calendar

The Fellowship meets most Thursday nights from

Fall Dates

September 21st
September 28th
Oct 6th – Oct 8th: 3 Day Retreat
October 12th
October 19th
October 26th
November 2nd
November 9th
November 16th
November 30th
December 7th
December 14th

Spring Dates

January 18th
January 25th
February 1st
February 8th
February 15th
February 22nd
March 1st–4th: Beyond the Bars Conference
March 9th
March 22nd
March 29th
April 5th
April 13th-15th: 3 Day Closing Retreat

Justice in Education Scholar Topeka Sam writes her first Op-Ed as 2017 Soros Fellow

It’s Time to Overhaul America’s Broken Probation and Parole Systems

July 13, 2017   Topeka K. Sam


I was released from prison two years and two months ago. Since then, I have been working to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated women and men.

I’ve received fellowships from Beyond the Bars and the Open Society Foundations, and was named a Justice in Education Scholar at Columbia University. I founded the Ladies of Hope Ministries, which helps women and girls transition from prison back into society through education, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. I am establishing Hope House, a re-entry housing development for women and girls. As a founding member and national organizer of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, I have crisscrossed the country organizing council chapters and creating symposiums at law schools nationwide.



Center for Justice Partners on New Early Diversion Initiative

The Center for Justice is excited to partner with the Osborne Association and the Advancing Justice Initiative at the Columbia School of Social Work on a new Early Diversion Initiative launched by the Office of the District Attorney of New York County, Cy Vance Jr.

The Early Diversion Initiative will create early diversion programs that provide participants with opportunities to avoid prosecution and an arrest record through participating in short term programming in the community.

Our partners at the Osborne Association had this to say “The Osborne Association is honored to partner with the Center for Justice at Columbia University to divert people who have been arrested in Harlem by offering a meaningful community alternative to court process that can lead to better outcomes for individuals and safer communities. We thank District Attorney Vance for this opportunity to offer pathways out of the criminal justice system and into targeted interventions and wrap-around services. The District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative and commitment to alternatives to traditionally punitive prosecutions promises to make a real difference in the lives of all New Yorkers.” – Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes

You can read the full press release from the District Attorney’s Office HERE. 

Cheryl Wilkins Gives Keynote Speech at Washington Women’s Prison Graduation


‘You go, girl!’: Joy, tears as 19 Washington prison inmates earn college degrees

Senior Director of Education and Programs, Cheryl Wilkins on Higher Education in prison

This Former Inmate Is Fighting for Every Prisoner’s Right to a College Degree


Story by 
Photos by Laura Baker


As Cheryl Wilkins accepted her college diploma, hundreds of women screamed her name and whooped with joy. They were so loud that Wilkins’ brother, sitting with his four-year-old daughter, couldn’t hear the girl cheering, “Auntie! Auntie!” Other family members were even more enthusiastic. When another woman’s name was called, her six-year-old daughter grabbed her hand and dragged her to the stage. “Come on Mama, get your degree!” Wilkins remembers the girl shouting. “Her daughter took the diploma and walked off the stage with it.”



Opening Minds Behind Bars: The Justice in Education Initiative featured in the Columbia Magazine

What happens when you bring college classes to incarcerated men and women?

by James S. Kunen ’70CC Published Summer 2017

If you’ve ever glanced out the window of a plane flying into or out of LaGuardia Airport, you’ve seen Rikers Island. The flat strip of land, strikingly treeless, sits in the East River between Queens and the Bronx. With its clusters of long, low buildings, Rikers could be some sort of warehouse and distribution center, where tractor-trailers back up to bays to be loaded or unloaded. But there are no trucks. What is warehoused here is people — about 7,500 on any given day — detained by the New York City Department of Correction. Most of them, accused but not yet convicted of crimes, have been waiting months and even years for their day in court. Others have been found guilty and sentenced to a year or less in jail….