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Protest continues at Medgar Evers

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:47 p.m.

It was slated to be a silent protest, but a gathering of folk--the Medgar Evers Coalition demonstrating for changes at Medgar Evers College--let their presence be felt outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday.

While protesters conducted their business outside BAM, inside, President William Pollard and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes were among the speakers invited to share King's dream.

Pollard, who, along with Provost Howard C. Johnson, has been in the vortex of a contentious firestorm, was among the last speakers, and he was greeted with scattered applause but no catcalls. He keyed his remarks to Dr. King's admonitions about faith and service, only referring to the college as he sought to build a "respectful" academic program at Medgar Evers.

Hynes, after promising to further reduce recidivism in Brooklyn, announced the collaboration of a program for the formerly incarcerated with Medgar Evers. One of the issues at the center of the turmoil at Medgar Evers is the action on the part of the school's administrators to eliminate the Center of NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, a seven-year program that markedly provided the same objectives.

According to the official announcement from the DA's office, the proposed Community Justice Program will be paired with the college's academic programs to include an array of initiatives, internships and courses that will create opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

"This will be a great service to the formerly incarcerated, and contribute to the health and safety of the entire community," said Hynes.

Pollard agreed. "This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to gain experience in this field through internships coordinated with the district attorney's office, and it's a great opportunity for those who are being released from incarceration to re-enter society, find a job, and obtain skills needed for college."

In addition, the announcement continued, "new courses, seminars, symposia and even degree programs on diversion and re-entry programs would be developed." Inter-disciplinary academic programming is also under consideration, according to Johnson and First Assistant District Attorney Anne J. Swern, an expert in the field who also is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School.

None of these endeavors come as a surprise to Eddie Ellis, who, with Dr. Divine Pryor, heads the imperiled NuLeadership program. "While it is true that MEC does not have any policy that penalizes current or prospective formerly incarcerated students (such a policy would be against the law) there is an attitude on the part of the president and the provost of utter disdain towards our population," said Ellis said in response to a fact sheet item from the college's public relations office in reference to its re-entry program. "Both subscribe to the negative stereotypical belief that previously incarcerated students somehow pose a threat to the security of the campus, despite any evidence to support the belief.

"The Community Justice Program, recently announced by President Pollard, in conjunction with the Kings County DA's office, is a poorly contrived attempt to deflect the overwhelmingly negative national criticism he has received over his treatment and eviction of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions," Ellis added. "His hastily assembled criminal justice program is an inadequate imititation of the work that NuLeadership has been doing for the past 10 years.