Dominic Carter: Whoopie Goldberg keeps it Real during Prison College Graduation discussing her shortcomings
Whoopi Goldberg has been in a lot of movies. The Color Purple, Sister Act, and I'll admit, one of my favorite Goldberg movies, when she played the female coach of the professional New York Knicks basketball team, in Eddie.
At this graduation, it was Goldberg's turn to discuss her shortcomings.
The class valedictorian, a young man by the name of William Brown, told the audience in his speech that he almost turned down his opportunity because he worried if he would be inadequate, if he would be at a loss of words.
His family was there, expressing tremendous tears of joy, and I watched them cry during his speech. The Brown family had put off retiring to stand by their son. His father, William Brown, mother, Victoria Brown, and Aunt Judith Little were in attendance. His mother told me:
"I feel very proud of him," with her voice trembling, and her husband rubbing her back in full support "...for the way he has dealt with everything in his life, and especially being here."
Another family at the Mercy College Graduation were loved ones of graduate Mark Boatswain. Mark received his Associate Degree, and his mother, Elaine Barnett, and sister, Marsha Thomas couldn't have been happier.
Think about this for a moment, after all the years of seeing a loved one in prison, and the turmoil that comes with that. At least on this day, the families were on top of the world.
Skousen reminded me of my wife, Marilyn Carter, a life-long educator, who years ago in the upstate Cortland N.Y area, took tremendous pride teaching at juvenile detention centers. Part of me, never understood it. So I put my question to professor Skousen, and found her answer amazing.
Professor, you been doing this for seven years. Are you worried about your safety?"
I followed up.
"Why do you do what you do, professor?"
Maybe I'm getting old, only days away from the milestone of my 50th birthday, but the response of professor Skousen brings tears to my eyes. This woman, surrounded by alleged hardened criminals in a classroom, just knew that right was on her side. You could see it in her eyes.
My experience in life has shown me that one person; yes, one determined person can change the world.
It was also the first Mercy College graduation for President Timothy L. Hall. Just three weeks ago the new president arrived from Tennessee, and was bursting with pride at the graduation.
I have to admit, I did not start out supporting this program, a college education for prison inmates (and I raised that opposition to Goldberg and another entertainer that supports it, Harry Belafonte. You can see the interviews here). But look at the millions it saves tax-payers. Again, the money for Hudson Link is privately raised, and it saves tax-payers because only a handful of their graduates have ever returned to prison, which in New York State costs about 60,000 a year per inmate. You do the math.
"There aren't many programs that I know of where you can spend a dollar here, and get a 12 dollar return there. It makes percent sense." Said Sean Pica-Hudson Link.
Another Hudson Link official put it this way.
"There is a big difference between incarceration, and rehabilitation. The men that are graduating here are the ultimate example of what rehabilitation can mean when we as a society look at them as men, not as prisoners," said Christian French-Hudson Link Board President.
The new graduates will never forget that someone like Whoopi Goldberg took time out her day to travel two hours outside New York City to attend their graduation, they will never forget Professor Skousen, that someone believed in them, or their families that have been there in bad times and now in good ones.
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