IT TAKES A VILLAGE by Darla Davenport-Powell 3/25/13


It takes a village to raise a child; and a village to restore one who has gone astray. However the “village” principle is not limited to children but applies to adults as well; those who have lost their way. I witnessed an amazing graduation on Sunday that brought tears to my eyes. As I sat and waited for service to start at the Potter’s House, I knew something extraordinary was about to take place.

As the lights dimmed, three simple words captured my attention on the Jumbotron; three simple words: “I Am More!” As the 75-plus graduates from the T.O.R.I Program (Texas Offender’s Re-entry Initiative) made their way down the aisles, with each step I could imagine them saying, “I am more than my past; more than my mistake; and more than the transgression that cost me my dignity.”

I am more

The T.O.R.I Program is a model for the world. Its founder, Bishop T.D.Jakes has masterfully assembled a cadre of trained professionals, volunteers, mentors and facilitators whose sole mission is to empower and equip ex-offenders with the tools that they need for a productive life.

All it takes is one wrong turn

Award-winning Actor/Director Charles S. Dutton (Roc) knows about wrong turns. At age 12, ‘Roc’ dropped out of middle school for what he called “foolishness.” In his “Jail to Yale” keynote speech to the graduates, he told a story about remembering his “16th” birthday; for that was the only year that he did not go to reform school. A year later he was sent to prison for killing a man who stabbed him eight times. After serving a few months shy of two years, ‘Roc’ went back to the penitentiary for possessing deadly weapons. The day of his release, he was told that he would be staying eight more years for a prior assault on a prison guard.

It takes two dollars to educate and sixty to incarcerate

A funny thing happened to ‘Roc’ on his way to solitary confinement. He accidentally picked up a book on short plays by African American playwrights that changed his life. It was the “Day of Absence” by Douglas Turner Ward that ignited his soul and set him on a path that unlocked his purpose. He was allowed to stage the play in prison under the condition of completing his GED.

‘Roc’ was on a roll. He successfully earned his GED, was allowed to take courses from a community college in prison and received his Associates of Arts degree after parole. He continued his studies at Towson State University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. He was admitted and received his master’s degree from the Yale Drama School, where he met August Wilson, the late Pulitzer Prize playwright, who launched his Broadway career.

A new beginning

One by one, as their names were called, the graduates marched across the stage before a sea of witnesses. Family, friends, program volunteers, judges, state elected officials, county representatives, and the congregation were all there to applaud the end of their 12-month intensive program and the beginning of a new chapter. In addition to being reunited with their families, many of the students received their own home and a job; while others enrolled in college.

Tina Naidoo, a licensed social worker and executive director of the T.O.R.I program says, “The City of Dallas housing authority is the only one in the country that provides section 8 vouchers for my clients and their families. How can they get their kids back if they don’t have a home?This takes away the element of being ‘illegal’ and gives them responsibilities…something they can have in their name.”

Texas will release more than 70,000 prisoners this year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report states that more than 35,000 of those released will return to prison within three years. The T.O.R.I program has a low recidivism rate. Naidoo states that “the demand for our services is greater than our current resources. The best way to get ahead of the demand is for individuals, corporations, and foundations to rally around T.O.R.I.’s mission and support it so we can expand our services, serve more people and end the cycle of incarceration indefinitely.”

To make a donation to the T.O.R.I program and for more information, visit: http://www.medc-tori. IT TAKES A VILLAGE!

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  • Anonymous  On March 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you sister
    Darla, heartbreaking story of redemption, renewal and hope. spread the Good News

  • darladavenportpowell  On March 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Thank you for having a compassionate and caring heart!

  • Anonymous  On April 1, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    This story reminds me of the power of mentoring and the need for connections to provide more resources.

  • Anonymous  On April 2, 2013 at 3:51 am

    No one achieves any success in life without the help of others…mentoring is powerful!!! Your post is on point! Thank you!

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