Meet our 2015-16 Beyond the Bars Fellows
Our current Fellows come from many schools across Columbia (Social Work, Teachers College, Columbia College and the School of Professional Studies), other colleges (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York Theological Seminary, Hunter College, SUNY Downstate, Fairleigh Dickinson University) and a variety of different community and government organizations (Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brennan Center for Justice, Opportunities and Change, New York City Department of Small Business Services, CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, the Ladies of Hope Ministries and the New York State Senate). We are honored to be working with such a powerful group of people and look forward to seeing the work of the Fellowship continue to grow.
Alicia is a social worker that is passionate about education and social justice. She has spent nearly a decade working with adolescents and young adults to empower them and remove barriers to education. For four years she worked in a school-based teen dating violence prevention and intervention program. She currently serves as a high school administrator in the South Bronx. To combine her two passions, Alicia has introduced restorative practices into the school culture as an alternative to more traditional zero-tolerance discipline systems. She studied Psychology and Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and received her masters in Social Work from Columbia University.
Amanda Polster is a second year student at Columbia’s School of Social Work. She moved to New York City last August to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work. She graduated from Kenyon College with a BA in Sociology in 2013. Amanda also played varsity college tennis all 4 years and joined the Junior and Senior Class Council her last 2 years of her undergraduate studies to collaborate and advocate with classmates. After she graduated from Kenyon College, she worked for a year in Cleveland, Ohio at Beech Brook, a treatment center for troubled youth of Northeast, Ohio. During that period, she applied to graduate schools across the country and committed to Columbia University in the spring of 2014. Her first Year at CSSW, she interned at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School in the South Bronx. She worked closely with Turnaround for Children to target the most at-risk middle school students with developmental delays and behavioral problems. This year, she is currently interning at the Harlem Community Justice Center. This internship, along with efforts through the Criminal Justice Caucus and the Beyond the Bars Fellowship provide an all-encompassing effort to advocate to end mass incarceration and work towards eliminating structural and systemic barriers within the criminal justice system.
Ayesha Hakim is a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice majoring in Sociology and minoring in Human Rights. She is a research assistant with Research Foundation at CUNY focusing on homelessness in NYC. She is also the founder and President of the student organization The Social Justice Project at John Jay. Ayesha plans to pursue a law degree specializing in Immigration and Civil Rights and aims to continue her work as a community organizer in the Bronx in which she resides.
Carmel Curtis is a recent graduate of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation masters program. For her cumulating thesis, “Unlocking Access: Audiovisual Materials for Incarcerated Communities,” Carmel looked at historical and contemporary policies, procedures, and practices enabling and preventing access to audiovisual materials for people who are incarcerated in the United States. Carmel sees the space of the archive (formal and informal, institutional and personal) as a potential environment for individual and collective change. Archiving is essential not only for preserving the past, but for building and maintaining a history from which we can contextualize our present. Specifically through the power of movies and music, Carmel hopes we can radically change systems that perpetuate inequality and oppression.
Cesar Idarraga is a first generation, minority college student and U.S. Army veteran. His parents, both Colombian immigrants, have no formal education past high school. His path to a higher education began in the fall of 2011 at Miami Dade College where he obtained his associates in economics. In the fall of 2013, he transferred to Columbia University and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Upon graduating, he plans to pursue a career in public service—either in government or in a civically-engaged organization—working on education or economic-development issues. Partly due to his experiences growing up, the two issues that interest him most are helping to reduce the education gap between low-income predominantly minority students and well-off predominantly white students and helping to foster fair economic trade amongst developing nations and their industrialized counterparts.
CHRISTINA MARIE CHAISE is a Master’s Candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Sociology & Education program with a concentration in Policy Analysis. Born and raised in New York City and a product of CUNY (Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hunter College), Christina has been an active student organizer—co-founding New York Students Rising (NYSR) and Students United for a Free CUNY (SUFC), two grassroots student organizations that fought for educational rights at CUNY & SUNY—and has previously worked for non-profits, such as the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI). During her undergraduate years, she was a student government leader and a McNair Scholar, as well.
Christina’s experience at TC has informed her research trajectory concerning the framework, language, and treatment of and around students of color, from Pre-K to PhD. Her current research explores critical pedagogy and critical race dialogue in academia, with a particular focus on schools of education that shape the minds of teachers, and vicariously, our youth. She aims to disrupt the current oppressive lexicon and shatter the deficit lens of which our communities of color are discussed and viewed in the field of educational research and practice, specifically teacher education programs. She currently works at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) as a project assistant. She believes in the radical act of love and authentic caring as tools for liberation.
Christopher is formerly incarcerated and recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, magna cum laude, with a B.A. in Psychology. He is currently part of the Bridge-to-PhD Program in the Natural Sciences at Columbia University. As an undergraduate, he was a McNair Scholar and conducted research in the Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology (BraIN) Laboratory, as well as with the Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court evaluation team. Through this work, he began to notice how misinformation about the neuropharmacological actions of drugs have contributed to the phenomenon of mass incarceration. This inspired him to gain a more thorough understanding of the neurobiological and environmental factors that determine response to drug effects. He aspires to become a neuropsychopharmacologist who investigates the effects of psychoactive substances in human research participants.
Cyd Charisse Fulton hails from Brooklyn, NY as a writer also founder and editor of Emphat!c Press. She is a graduate of New York University and has been nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. Her work is featured in Stand Our Ground, I Want My Poetry To…, and Dovetail anthologies, aaduna.org, electronic magazine, as well as Author’s Den, and Wordpeace literary journals. Her poems have also been featured in The 2015 People’s State of the Union, Poetic Address to the Nation, The 2015 NYU Gallatin School Arts Festival Black Lives Matter, the 2014 Washington, DC celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 100th Anniversary of the death of Harriet Tubman recognition gala in Auburn, NY. She produced and hosted the 2014 Black Theater Network Conference poetry event at the National Black Theater in Harlem. Cyd is a volunteer for Castillo Theatre Adult and Youth Programs. Her chapbooks Feeding Off of the North Star and Emphatic Radical are tools for social change.
Desire Vincent works in Communications & Strategy at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. She works with the communications team to make the center’s website an engaging and important resource for activists, journalists and citizens by producing dynamic content including podcasts, infographics, and social media. Prior to the Brennan Center, Desire served as the Project Coordinator for the Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit at the Vera Institute of Justice where she worked on the National Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank website, cbkb.org. Prior to Vera, she worked as a Community Engagement Assistant at the National Center for Media Engagement and Public Relations Intern at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention. She previously volunteered as a reentry mentor at the Women’s Prison Association and as a NYC Half Marathon runner for Team Harlem United.
Dominique Roberts is a second year student at Columbia’s School of Social Work. In 2012, she received a Bachelor of Arts from DePauw University with a focus in Sociology and Psychology. Upon graduating, she worked with several non-profits, from educational to financial planning to service organizations. Her field of practice is clinical work with contemporary social issues and is currently working with individuals in an alternative to incarceration program that focuses on drug treatment. After graduation, she plans to return to her hometown of Chicago, IL and working with individuals in alternatives to incarceration and/or reentry programs by giving them the guidance and support needed for success and sustainability post-incarceration. She considers herself to be an advocate for change and an individual committed to making a difference in the world. Dominique wants to leave her mark on humanity, even if it is just one person. It is not about the quantity of lives you affect, but the quality of the ones you touch.
Felicia F. Davis – Master Business Administration (General Management) Expected 2016 – Fairleigh Dickinson University; Master Administrative Science (HR Management) 2012- Fairleigh Dickinson University, BA (Sociology) 2009 – New Jersey City University.
Senior program administrator with background in marketing, government/military, legal, education, entrepreneurism and information technology – areas of concentration: job creation, supported employment services, adjustment/career counseling, coalition building and advocacy as a provider of social services to families in crisis, seniors, and those battling addictions and mental health conditions.
My positions with Labor & Workforce Development, Departments of Defense and Veterans Administration and grants/program management provided platforms to implement change within the “veteran-space”; to promote positive attitudes and appreciation for those who serve; and to seek remedies and resolutions for the underserved in transition. Current projects include supporting women vets, the formerly incarcerated and LGBTQI service members who face challenges due to adverse discharges and disparate continuums of care.
Isaac Scott is a self-taught graphic designer and fine artist. His passion for social justice and criminal justice reform runs deep, as he is directly affected by the criminal justice system and its disenfranchising nature. In November 2013, Isaac was released on “good behavior” from New York State Prison after serving 7 years, 8 months and 16 days of a 9-year sentence. It has been Isaac’s personal experience (as an artist who was introduced to the arts inside of prison) that art has the power to transform the artist as well as the audience. Since his release Isaac has used his creativity as an artist to shatter the stigma associated with his own incarceration.
Today Isaac is a leader in advocacy with solid goals to induce criminal justice reform through the transformative and storytelling power of the arts. He has used his passion for the arts to accomplish goals that would not have been achieved without such a socially accepted means of expression. Through the arts Isaac has positioned himself in a place where he is able to provide widespread assistance to those artists following behind him. Isaac Scott has independently made a name for himself within the art sector of the re-entry field and is today in a position with Columbia University where he can use his creativity in many different ways to induce change.
Jamie D. Hawley is ordained in the Church of God In Christ and the United Church of Christ. After nearly a decade served in the U.S. Military, he earned a Bachelor of Science at Southern Illinois University. He subsequently earned a Master of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary, buttressed with a parish internship at First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, IL and a chaplaincy internship at Advocate Illinois Masonic in Chicago. At CTS, Jamie was the recipient of a Gilberto Castaneda Scholarship for Outstanding LGBT Students and Allies. He was also selected as a Fellow with The Beatitudes Society, a progressive Christian organization with an emphasis on social justice issues.
He served as chaplain at the University of Michigan Health System, where he worked on several quality improvement initiatives to address health care disparities in marginalized communities. He was the recipient of the 2014 University of Michigan Diversity Leaders Award for his work in this capacity, which included securing a start-up grant and serving as Principal Investigator (PI) of a qualitative study project. Jamie’s passions include advocating for marginalized communities, confronting mass incarceration, poverty, systemic racism, power and inequality.
Jasmine Akuffo is a current junior at Columbia University, pursuing a degree in African-American Studies and Sociology. She currently works as a Research Assistant for the Social Intervention Group of Columbia School of Social Work, is the president of the Black Theatre Ensemble at Columbia and a Community Organizer for the Intercultural Resource Center. Her interests include exploring matters of criminal justice, mass incarceration, education and the arts, specifically pertaining to their role in social justice work. She is currently preparing to apply for Law School and drafting her thesis.
Juliet Herndon works as a Borough Manager with the New York City Department of Small Business Services. Her past experience in workforce development and rehabilitation counseling led her to work with incarcerated youth in Washington, D.C., which further developed her interest in social justice and sparked a passion for criminal justice policy reform. After moving to New York in 2013, she worked with men and women coming out of prison and assisted them with job preparation and job placement services. She joined the fellowship to further understand the relationship and intersections of all forms of oppression that have allowed for a system of mass incarceration, particularly educational inequities, medical and health practices and legislation. She hopes to gain the leadership skills and tools to organize and effect change in the criminal justice system.
Krystal Bostick is currently a second year graduate student at the School of Social Work. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice in the year of 2013. Upon taking a year off to pursue a graduate degree, she became an assistant teacher under the supervision of the Jewish Community Center. With the work experience, skills and knowledge obtained throughout the year, she decided to pursue a MSW at Columbia University. Krystal’s determination and commitment to education is driven by self-motivation and also being a first generation college graduate.
Ms. Bostick’s Columbia education has allowed her the opportunity to intern as a social worker at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School. Her current internship is at Brooklyn Defender Services Criminal Defense Adolescent Team. Between fulfilling her duties as a fulltime student and intern, Krystal also is one of three leaders of the Criminal Justice Caucus at Columbia as well a college readiness instructor with Barnard’s Step Program. In addition to that, she volunteers and participates in a number of organizational events. Ms. Bostick’s career goal upon graduation is to work with youth through incarceration prevention and reintegration by providing community involvement, skills training and mentorship.
The daughter of Dominican immigrants, Leyla Martinez is not only first generation American in her family but is also a first generation college student. Leyla Martinez is a junior at Columbia School of General Studies pursuing a BA in Human Rights. She has successfully completed the Justice in Education Fellowship and was recently selected to be a Women’s Forum Education Fund Fellow. Ms. Martinez, interned with Welfare Rights Initiative, where she advocated on behalf of students from NYC who receive public assistance, so they could continue pursuing their education. Leyla is a research assistant in the Social Relations Lab at Columbia University Psychology Department, where they pursue a wide range of topics which allows them to discern the effects of situational factors on individuals, as well as, the effects of individuals on their environment and their immediate situation. She is also the Program Coordinator for the Beyond the Bars Fellowship, where students and community members are offered the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of mass incarceration while collaborating in planning the annual Beyond the Bars Conference. Ms. Martinez journey has been long and there have been a few bumps on the road, nonetheless she has not given up and is determined to continue pursuing a higher education. Her hopes are that her education and experiences will properly prepare her to make changes to current policies in place that hinder the possibilities of the underrepresented.
Mark Skladany is a twenty-four year old New York/New Jersey area native. At a young age Mark made a few wrong choices which in turn drastically altered his life and made him a victim of mass incarceration at the tender age of fourteen. By becoming involved with both the juvenile and criminal justice systems, Mark has first hand experience of the numerous injustices which are affecting so many children/adults in the United States.
While incarcerated Mark focused on educating himself and attempting–on his own–to battle the harsh conditions which he was forced to endure. The knowledge and hope that he could somehow bring change to the injustices which people face gave his life meaning and purpose while he was incarcerated. Mark was only released a few short months ago and even though there have been many bumps on the road he is determined to continue his pursuit of a higher education in order to use his education to help influence policy changes which will reduce the injustices being committed both behind and Beyond the Bars.
Educator Marsha Thorne delights in blending art, activism and education. Serving as a multimedia producer, teaching artist and writer in buffet of artistic outlets, critical Literacy curriculums and reentry programs surrounding social change.
Previously Marsha has served as an associate producer at ABC Eyewitness News, writer for Essence Festival “20 Year Celebration” and featured voice-over talent for Cartoon Networks, Turner Broadcast and IFC Channel. Presently, she serves as an Associate Producer on a theatrical multimedia show “Lyrics from Lockdown” freelance teaching artist, educational consultant and co-facilitates a Film & Media Literacy workshop at Rikers. In addition, she is completing grad studies at Columbia University Teacher’s College and mentors court-involved youth through various DOP programs.
Fordham University alum and Washington, D.C. area native Rico Washington has utilized his diverse writing talents for various platforms. As a journalist who has interviewed celebrities such as Chris Rock, Erykah Badu, and Vin Diesel, his work has appeared in outlets such as Wax Poetics, Okayplayer, and Ebony.com. He has composed album liner note essays for CD reissues in the UK of classic albums by legendary soul music icons. He has also written bios for major label recording artists, professional athletes, Grammy winning songwriters, and Olympic gold medalists.
His grant winning collaborative art projects with photographer Shino Yanagawa – We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Pictures + Words and Finding Dante – have been exhibited internationally, praised by the likes of esteemed scholar/ documentarian Henry Louis Gates and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and featured in media outlets such as NPR, NY1, CBS’ Here And Now, Metro NY, and the New York Daily News. He has served as a staff writer/ columnist for XLR8R Magazine, is a teaching artist with Arts Connection, and is a current Social Print Studio/ This Will Take Time artist-in-residence.
Inspired by Drs. Victor Rios, Paul Farmer, Jenna Loyd and LeConte Dill, Shavaun Sutton is a burgeoning public health professional, currently pursuing a master’s degree in Community Health Sciences at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health. Shavaun has served as a Dorm Storm Voter Registration Leader, research assistant, and Community Liaison at Woodhull Medical Center and has worked with local organizations supporting sustainable health improvement.
In her career and academic pursuits, she strives to maintain social responsibility while informing public health practice through qualitative research of the social determinants of health. This includes exposure to violence, omnipresent policing, and mass incarceration. In addition to the Beyond the Bars Fellowship and completing her master’s degree, Shavaun is currently volunteering with KAVI (Kings Against Violence Initiative) as a Student Research Assistant in Brooklyn, New York.
Shawnda Chapman Brown is a research analyst at CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, where she supports ongoing research on the Equality Indicators project. Prior to joining the Institute, she spent several years working as a research assistant and survey field agent with the Social Justice Sexuality Initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center. Partially based on her own experiences, her academic work has focused racial justice and how youth of color get sucked into the justice system. Shawnda has worked on several independent research projects in her interest areas and has presented at academic conferences. Her research interests include: the school to prison pipeline, the sociology of education, social mobility, stratification and inequality, as well quantitative research methods and analysis. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Applied Social Research at Hunter College, with a focus on public policy research. Shawnda was born in Japan, but was raised between Texas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. She is also a self-avowed feminist, garden nerd, artist, book nut, jazz head, lover of hip hop culture, wife, and proud mother of a four year-old daughter named Jamaica.
Topeka K. Sam is the founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM – whose mission is to help disenfranchised and marginalized women transition back into society through education, empowerment, spiritual development. Ms. Sam is also a member of The National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls also known as “The Council”. She is pursuing her Certificate in Christian Ministry at New York Theological Seminary and A Justice-In-Education Scholar at Columbia University.
While in federal prison, Topeka began to develop and envision the concept for the organization. Ms. Sam established the program only a few short months after her release in May of 2015 and has gained considerable awareness for the organization. Topeka has participated in several panel discussions including #FreeHer Justice Advocacy Conference, which was held at Harvard University in Aug. 2015. As organizer of the Real Women Real Voices Symposium, she will continue to take the conference nationally to bring awareness around advancement in policy for women in incarceration.
Born to immigrant parents from the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago, Vaughn Mayers is Chief of Staff at the New York State Senate where he manages a professional staff to create and advance laws and policies to improve the quality of life for New York State residents. A political campaign manager by trade, Vaughn has led and supported the successful campaigns of State Legislature candidates in the New York City region. A life-long Brooklyn inhabitant, Vaughn recently graduated from the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University where he earned a Masters of Public Administration degree with a focus on public management and policy analysis.
When not working to protect our democracy, Vaughn enjoys spending time with his two young daughters and running road races to fight childhood obesity. A 2015 Beyond the Bars Fellow, he knows firsthand the struggles of marginalized communities that are perpetuated by hyper-policing, the revolving door of incarceration, and the subsequent generational traumas left behind. Vaughn is a Fellow today because he wants to one-day control the conversation to ensure real solutions to the systematic problems underserved communities face.