In 2000, when Kathy Randels and Ausettua Amor Amenkum began a collaboration with a group of incarcerated women to produce a dance and drum number that celebrated the heritage of the incarcerated women, they had no clue how deep their passion for mending the broken criminal justice system would grow.
Kathy, the Founding Artistic Director of ArtSpot Productions, explains her zeal for the issue: “I was bound to [the incarcerated women], by love, by justice, by having shared so many stories with one another; by the pain of their pasts and the pain of their current state of incarceration; and by the joy that we found and created when we were together, that transcended all of the pain.” It was with this conviction that Kathy and Ausettua, the Artistic Director of Kumbuka African Dance and Drum Collective and Big Queen of the Washita Nation, began working first within women’s prisons. The root of The Graduates lies in the work Kathy and Ausettua did together while teaching dance and theatre in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, forming the LCIW Drama Club.
The Graduates Summit will take place Friday, April 6, 2018, to Sunday, April 8, 2018, at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. The three-day event, titled “Beyond Incarceration,” will include different workshops and panels that intend to highlight the way mass incarceration affects not only inmates but the greater community and culture.
Four themes of focus will be highlighted throughout the weekend: Activism; Art as Activism and Healing; Reentry; and Education. Feature panels such as “Where Is God in All of This?”, “Activism 101”, and “Reentering Society” will break down the multifaceted issues associated with the current incarceration system and offer potential solutions.
Members of the panel include: Susan Burton, a formerly incarcerated woman who has opened 5 reentry houses in Los Angeles; Kathy Boudin former member of the Weather Underground; and Susan Rosenburg, who famously helped free Assata Shakur (Black Panther member) from prison.
With this summit, Kathy, Ausettua, guest speakers, and other members of The Graduates hope to raise awareness about mass incarceration in New Orleans and the rest of the country through the dialogue that will take place during the summit. Kathy is hopeful about the impact of the summit, saying, “we are really focusing on the needs of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women; and trying to place a spotlight on their issues and ways to heal them and their families; while also looking at how people from different sectors can work together to end mass incarceration!” For members of The Graduates, the issue of mass incarceration has found a deep place in their hearts, and they only want to see the situation improve. To Kathy mass incarceration has become “a disease in our state”, one which she hopes to mitigate through her work with The Graduates and this summit.
The Beyond Incarceration Summit will be from Friday, 6, 2018 until Sunday, April 8, 2018. For more information on The Graduates, the Beyond Incarceration Summit, or mass incarceration, you can visit thegraduates.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember, there is also the Nola to Angola Bike Ride and Cookout for Prison Justice happening on Saturday, April 7 as well.