The Dignity Roadmap — from Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, GOSO President & CEO
There’s a recent documentary on HULU entitled, “Summer of Soul.” It centers around a historic, though largely forgotten, outdoor concert series that took place in Harlem in August 1969. At this point in our history, America was reeling from the deaths of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, President John F. Kennedy, and 47,000 American soldiers in the Vietnam War. And the morale of Black people was at an all-time-low. But the Harlem Culture Festival gave a voice to that frustration. Perhaps more importantly, it was an opportunity for the people of Harlem to reclaim their dignity. Likewise, we want to use this time to reclaim the dignity of our program participants.
Since 2003, GOSO has been more than a reentry program for young men involved in the criminal justice system. We have created a program that supports young men by recognizing and embracing their dignity. We live in a society that too often casts people aside or defines them by a single act. But the sum total of our lives can’t be reduced to our mistakes, and the entire GOSO team is here to remind our participants that they all deserve to be treated with respect no matter where life has taken them.
In fact, over the years, we’ve developed a roadmap for rebuilding and honoring the dignity of our participants – one that everyone can embrace.
- Be curious: In order to treat people with dignity, it’s important to be curious, regardless of where that might lead. At GOSO, everyday we learn something new about the lives of our participants and the situations they face. We accomplish this through open dialogue and exchanging ideas. The fact of the matter is that without this type of sincere interest in their lives, it would be impossible to meet the needs of the young men we serve.
- Be empathetic: It’s easy to give lip service to the idea of being empathetic. But empathy doesn’t stop at the emotional level. At GOSO, we want to transform our empathy into action. Bear in mind, while “sympathy” means we share in someone else’s feeling, “empathy” is trying to understand someone’s feelings even if you don’t share them – something we should all be able to do.
- Be consistent: One thing we hear from young men in our program is they never knew people could really care about their well being until coming to GOSO. Many of the young men we support know broken promises all too well. But at GOSO, we pride ourselves on showing up everyday and doing the work that needs to be done. Even before we had an office, Mark L. Goldsmith, our founder, would meet participants at Starbucks. Before we established our advocacy program, GOSO staff would show up in court on behalf of participants. In fact, we went so much that the judges began to recognize us – even allowing us to speak in support of our young men. One of the things these young men deserve more than anything is to have people in their lives who are going to follow through. Whether helping someone find housing or securing a job, we believe in the power of consistency.
- Be humble: At GOSO, people’s circumstances don’t define who they are. When we begin speaking with young men on Rikers Island, we want them to understand that we’re not perfect and may not have all of the answers to life’s mysteries; but we’re there to help however possible. Through this humility, we make ourselves vulnerable. We have to remember: “There but for the grace of God go I.” None of us has control over the circumstances into which we were born. And many of us are products of our environment. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I could endure the struggles that our program participants have had to face.
Spread the word
GOSO’s work would not be possible without the support of people like you. You’ve shared your resources, you’ve supported our book drives, and you’ve spread the word far and wide about the importance of ending gun violence and finding alternatives to incarceration. And we hope that you’ll also share in our commitment to preserving the dignity of individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system. The young men in our program deserve more than the cards they were dealt in life, and we want to use this month to remind everyone that dignity is something that they so richly deserve.