Empathy in the Season of Thanksgiving

Empathy in the Season of Thanksgiving

— from Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, GOSO President & CEO

This month is just getting started, and already we have a lot to be excited about. The final votes for New York City mayor have been tallied, and we’re eager to see how Eric Adams will help transform our city into a beacon of fairness and justice. Meanwhile, Alvin Bragg has been elected as Manhattan’s first Black district attorney. And with the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, I’m sure many of you are thinking about spending time with family and loved ones. 

Challenges persist

Still, with so much going on, we can’t gloss over the fact that, for the justice involved, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune persist. Amid the rising violence on Rikers Island, for example, a brief stint in jail has the potential to be a death sentence. The threat of gun violence is omnipresent, rendering entire communities paralyzed by a sense of impending doom. Further, an estimated 20% of individuals in jail and 15% of individuals in prison are struggling with serious mental illness, despite the fact that people with serious mental illness represent only 4%-5% of the population.

Empathy as a weapon of choice

In August, we shared our GOSO Dignity Roadmap with you. For almost two decades, we have been committed to helping young men whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system. We’ve been present in the courtrooms, advocating on their behalf – especially when they didn’t have anyone else in their corners. The SAVE East Harlem team has had its boots on the ground, serving as violence interrupters. And we have been rolling up our sleeves, helping our young men gain access to city resources that they so richly deserve. But none of this would be possible without a healthy dose of empathy among our staff and concerned stakeholders such as yourself.

For the entire GOSO team, empathy isn’t a nebulous loosely defined feeling that resides in the recesses of our minds. Empathy calls on us to understand the feelings of others even when we don’t completely understand them, and it also propels us into action. It forces us to ask deeper, more earnest questions. Why do systemic racism and poverty continue to take such a toll on the lives of our young men? How can we, as a community, help transform the justice system into something that more closely resembles our nation’s commitment to equality and justice for all? How can I personally be a part of the solution?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, as you reflect on all of life’s blessings, please don’t forget the young men whose lives are ensnared in the criminal justice system. I realize that sometimes these challenges can seem so daunting that you’re left wondering, “How can I possibly make a difference?”

The answer: Your continued support means more than you could possibly imagine! 

Transforming your empathy into action by getting involved

If you haven’t already, please consider some of the various options available for supporting GOSO participants. You can donate online, even setting a monthly gift in motion. Many of us work for companies that match our charitable donations. To double or even triple your gift, check if your company has a matching gift program. Or with the stock market seemingly breaking records week after week, perhaps you would like to make a stock donation? You can download our Stock Transfer Instructions and email our Development team for more information: info@gosonyc.org.

Of course, supporting GOSO’s work can take many different forms. Perhaps you know of a company that’s in need of workers – especially during this labor shortage. We always welcome conversations with large corporations and small businesses, alike, about how they can become a GOSOWorks Employer Partner. As an internship provider for GOSO, companies can help a young man enter the workforce, provide him with vital experience in a profession or trade, assist him in developing a professional network, and open him up to meaningful opportunities in the future.

At GOSO, we take to heart Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” If you’re open to sharing your time and gifts, GOSO is always looking for passionate and energetic volunteers. Whether helping participants create compelling resumes and sharpening interview skills or tutoring and community service projects, there are so many ways to volunteer. We are also proud to host corporate volunteer days if your company or group is interested in a larger activity. 

Ultimately, if you have time, empathy and skills to share, our doors are open. And please consider joining us in our efforts to create alternative pathways for the justice involved during this season of Thanksgiving.