Sharon Content once enjoyed personal and professional success on Wall Street. However, the New Jersey resident eventually realized a more meaningful career was necessary and working with children was her destiny. Content went onto work in several different youth programs in NYC, and there was a recurring incidence that focused her drive to make a difference.
“Whenever I was working with a child of an incarcerated parent, there were very few if any resources or organizations to refer to,” she said, and her caring and entrepreneurial spirit coalesced to form Children of Promise, NYC.
The first after school program began 11 years ago in Brooklyn and all attendees have an incarcerated parent. Another just opened in the Bronx, 600 children now occupy the two locations.Unfortunately, most Americans don’t realize the extent of the problem. 2.7 million American children have a parent in prison, and the tragedy breaks down disproportionately along racial lines. So while One in 57 white children lay claim, one in 28 Latinos have a parent in prison and a staggering one in nine African American children fall prey
Of course, the communities CPNYC serve are the epicenter of the problem, but the after school label doesn’t quite cover it. “We are a licensed outpatient mental health clinic,” said Content.
This president doesn’t see the in-depth intervention as an overreach either. “The most important person in your life’s development has been taken away – your mom or dad,” she lamented.
The trauma frequently take place in a vacuum too. In other words, if separation occurs because of divorce, military deployment or even death, society offers unconditional empathy. Instead, stigma prevails for these kids, and families often instruct kids to keep it quiet. “My dad is gone, and I can’t even tell anyone where he’s at,” Content conveyed the sentiment.
So CPNYC gives children a safe place to share their experience, and the founder can’t help convey the entrance of one seven year old. Not understanding CPNYC’s mission, he covertly shared the family secret Content already knew. Returning the favor, she revealed that ‘everybody here’ has the same secret, and his response was nothing short of liberating. “Everybody,” he beamed. “Everybody,” she reassured him according to Content.
The pain given space to breathe, the therapeutics are straightforward, and so is the clinical intervention. “If you don’t express what you’re feeling, it’s going to manifest in negative behavior,” she stated flatly.
Unfortunately, prison visitations provide more grief than any child should have to express. The distance and the expense act to lessen the frequency of visits and reunifications are far from ideal.
Pat downs and checkpoints begin the dehumanization, and emotions are kept at a distance. Thus, physical contact is limited to a kiss at hello and goodbye. “So it’s the conditions that make it difficult,” she lamented.
Additionally, Covid-19 has increased the divide and upped the uncertainty. There’s no visitation rights, the prison phone systems are overloaded and information is scarce in terms of the health of their parents. “It’s absolutely added pressure,” she said.
Therapy isn’t the only release, though. The dedicated teacher staff forms long term relationships, and mix each afternoon up with play, homework help, dance, and drama.
But these kids don’t require any education on mass incarceration, and the over policing that forces their neighborhoods to live the injustice everyday. The sharing then becomes a form of empowerment. “We try to teach young people that those trials and tribulations make us strong,” she asserted. Nonetheless, Content refuses to stand pat and expansion is an ever present idea. How could it not be. “The services we provide are impactful and save lives!” she concluded.
CPNYC reimagines a just society that values the purpose of every child impacted by mass incarceration and removes barriers to create opportunities for children to thrive and achieve their human potential. CPNYC is a community-centered organization that partners with children and families impacted by mass incarceration to dismantle the stigma and heal from the trauma plaguing Black and Brown communities. CPNYC also provides One-to-One Mentoring: Project Dream, One-to-One Tutoring and a Teen Program. To stay connected to CPNYC and see the program in action follow follow them on Instagram and Facebook @childrenofpromisenyc or visit www.cpnyc.org.