At the beginning of the 2017 Fall semester, team #UbuntuPhilly was chosen to work with Ubuntu Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that strives to create a welcoming space for juvenile lifers, their families, the families of victims, and the community. Specifically, Ubuntu Philadelphia creates a space where lifelong pain and anguish associated with homicide can be openly discussed by bringing together victims and their families with the families of both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women to engage in community healing. The event features a directed dialogue, organized by professional circle keepers, where the larger community is invited to share in and observe the dialogue.
“Ubuntu,” a Bantu word meaning “human-ness” or “I am because you are,” creates a human connection between members of the community---both those participating in the forum as well as those individuals observing the event. Furthermore, this event touches on the theme of restorative justice, which lies at the center of Ubuntu Philadelphia’s mission. Restorative justice seeks to repair the harm caused through crime by bringing together victims, offenders, and community members. The core of restorative justice aims to achieve a gradual healing and if possible, eventual forgiveness. Unlike the past Ubuntu event, the one in the spring of 2018 will be located directly in Center City, in a space that focuses more on the Philadelphia community.
Team #UbuntuPhilly had the opportunity to meet with Kempis “Ghani” Songster, a juvenile lifer at Graterford prison and the co-creator behind Ubuntu* Philadelphia. During our visit, team members also met with another juvenile lifer at Graterford and with other inmates who believe in the power of Ubuntu and what the event can create for community healing. Through this conversation, team #UbuntuPhilly was able to learn more about the process of restorative justice, as well as the deeper meaning and why behind Ubuntu* Philadelphia. Furthermore, plans for interviews were discussed under the vision and insight of Ghani.
In the audio to the right, Ghani discusses the duty we all have to wrestle with the larger issues of our time.
Ghani is also one of four collaborators for The Redemption Project, which works throughout Pennsylvania in order to increase awareness about mandatory life without parole sentencing.
Through their work, The Redemption Project utilizes journalism and oral history in order to research, document, and share the stories of these juvenile lifers with the community. By initiating these difficult conversations through audio segments, video clips, and photographs, the Redemption Project shares the personal stories of these juvenile lifers, prompting their audience to get involved. Through their variety of content, The Redemption Project engages with their audience in a unique way. Ghani hopes to use the resources The Redemption Project has acquired to create the Ubuntu event in the upcoming spring. The Redemption Project’s mission is to "research, document and share the stories of child lifers to increase public awareness and prompt a revisiting of mandatory life-without-parole sentences. Pennsylvania is one of many states that required children as young as 13 convicted of first- or second-degree murder to serve life sentences without the chance for parole. Pennsylvania, where our work is focused for now, has by far the most child lifers of any state with some 500.”
As Pennsylvania has the largest amount of juvenile lifers serving life without parole, Ubuntu* Philadelphia and the Redemption Project are not alone in their fight for justice. Several other non-profit organizations work within Philadelphia, as well as within the larger Pennsylvania area, and outline similar missions to that of Ubuntu* Philadelphia and The Redemption Project. One of these organizations, the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, (YSRP) is a Philadelphia based non-profit that supports those children convicted under the adult criminal justice system. They work directly with these juvenile lifers in order to connect them with their families, thus providing them with the appropriate resources for education, health care, and other essential programs.
Together with the community and the nonprofits mentioned above, Ubuntu* Philadelphia hopes to bring some healing to its community.
Be on the lookout for more information about the event in the spring and how you can be a part of it.
This series continues with Part 2, Behind Ubuntu: Visiting Prison.