For the past ten weeks, the United Black Family Scholarship Foundation (UBFSF) sought to accomplish something no one would ever think possible. Sitting in a prison cell in Northern California, our founder, Ivan Kilgore, and his team of advisors and board of directors would spend the better part of the last year developing a number of internship programs, including a Finance & Resource Development program, that would eventually be accepted by the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Social Ecology Field Study Department. Working with a proxy, Brandilyn Parks, who supervises the internship program, six amazing and daring students quickly signed up. Instantly, they went to work learning the nuts and bolts of nonprofit development and management and applying for some $300,000 in grant funding.
Of the many programs the interns worked on to develop and obtain funding for it was the R.E.B.U.I.L.D.: Community Reinvestment Program that they were the most intrigued with. R.E.B.U.I.L.D., an urban action campaign, learns from the lessons of past community revitalization programs and brings that understanding to underserved communities. It seeks to interact with low-income communities with high incarceration rates, poverty, homelessness, and crime by weaving links between civic organizations, existing community groups/institutions, and community members while strengthening social and economic opportunities through mentorship and educational opportunities.
Daniel Gonzalez, a University of California Santa Cruz historian major and Underground Scholar Initiative coordinator, would say of the internship program that it was an, “… introduction to a critical pedagogy grounded in research and data while also incorporating innovative methods of collaborating with the incarcerated.”
“What I love most about the program,” said Kaelani Reyes, a graduating senior and social ecology major, “is that Ivan was able to take people from all different walks of life and bring them together to support the vision and mission of our organization.”
UBFSF is a volunteer and student-staffed 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating in Oklahoma, New York, and California. Incorporated in Oklahoma on May 22, 2014, the organization’s mission is to “Rebuild the community from within the community” by uprooting the structures that maintain poverty and racism beginning with the most fundamental human need, quality education. The UBFSF serves communities plagued with high incarceration rates, providing community members the opportunity and resources to skill build while developing economic stability, to avoid the prison pipeline’s harsh grasp.
“We are making beauty out of ashes and by that I mean we are taking something that has been labeled as broken… and getting people to see the beauty in it… by [placing] the power back into the community,” said Damilola Osinfolarin, a graduating senior at UCI double majoring in Political Science and Criminology, Law, and Society.
Even more, the students got an unfiltered view into the nation’s prison and criminal justice system via the many lectures, books and articles written by Ivan. Sophia Pintor would say of the experience that working with people like Ivan and the incarcerated “is a great start because they literally know the broken system inside-out; they have lived it and know what needs to be done and what needs to be fixed….”
Indeed, it is a story of inspiration. Ivan who maintains he was wrongfully convicted of murder was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and has spent the past 21 years in prison fighting for his freedom. Through sure determination and the support of family and friends he has been able to withstand many of the dehabilitative effects of prison and maintain his commitment to community development through the establishment of the UBFSF. “I find it truly amazing that someone can commit to the betterment of society, when that society itself does not even want them in it,” said intern Tatiana Cannon.
Defying stereotypes was the biggest takeaway for Juan Contreras a Criminology, Law and Society major. Controlling the narrative as to who the incarcerated are and their potential is a critical to defining how society perceives and interacts with the incarcerated and how they themselves see themselves. They are not the worse decision of their lives.
Through the organization’s budding partnerships with Langston University, CUNY, UCI, and the University of California Berkeley Underground Scholars Initiative, which is a student club of formerly incarcerated, it aims to develop community pride and youth engagement to work collectively to redevelop community infrastructure and pride throughout its R.E.B.U.I.L.D.
To learn more about this organization and R.E.B.U.I.L.D., contact us.