Take it from someone who knows both personally and professionally, there is a real need to provide after-care services for formerly incarcerated youth. Barbara King, who has worked as an educator for twenty years has launched Take Trips MES (Mentally, Emotionally, Spiritually) in Ossining, with that vision in mind.
King fell into educating incarcerated students when her route to the Writing Academy in the Bronx was redirected to this population. A fellow educator was moving to Rikers, the infamous Prison Complex which serves New York City, and he thought King’s resume, teaching US History, a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Journalism, would lend well to teaching incarcerated youth. She was surprised at his assessment as she had no expertise in this area.
“The only experience I had with that was my brother who had been in the Mississippi prison system all his life. He never as an adult was off of paper, and I wanted to know why.” King said.
Listen to our interview with Barbara King on our new Podcast Series, A Novel Take with Dr. Tony Di Giacomo – CLICK HERE to Listen
After a discussion with her family, and receiving encouragement from her brother, King put aside her reservations and accepted the challenge to teach detained students.
She began at a limited secure facility. This type of detention places juvenile offenders with cases pending, in group homes and is less restrictive than secure juvenile centers.
“That was a great thing for me. I was there for about five years,” King said.
When the site closed King moved to Horizons Juvenile Center in the Bronx, a secure detention facility.
“I was there but I just couldn’t take it. I kept seeing the same kids returning, and just the recidivism rate. And at some point, that started to weigh on me,” said King, who left and subsequently took a position at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry which provides supportive short-term residential programs for youth, of whom some but not all are in the detention system.
While at Children’s Village King saw the same issue, of recidivism, which she had encountered with the detained youth in New York City, and which she had seen with her brother, continue to play out.
“I got to talk to the kids even more and I was like why are you back? What’s going on?” King said.
King learned from her students how hard it was when they went back to their neighborhoods which have enduring social and economic ills, and not have the support with which to navigate normal life.
In 2015 tragedy struck King’s life. Her brother committed suicide. Her grief started to tell her something.
“It really started to weigh on me. And I said I’ve got to do something.”
And so, in 2018-2019 King began to put together what is now Take Trips MES. Starting off very simply with Instagram and officially launching her non-profit in January 2020.
Take Trips MES, as described on their website has the mission “to establish an organization where youth of color would be allowed to address their traumatic experiences by utilizing proper tools to heal from the damage of the outside world and the incarceration and detention system.”
King had already, in her classes, started to grow her students’ minds by infusing them with Black history lessons.
“Honestly, we don’t have a lot of Black history in the curriculum. A lot of the students didn’t know about Black Wall Street, or Nat Turner, and that’s unacceptable,” said King.
The next couple of pieces, the emotional and spiritual which Take Trips could address, King felt, was to offer something more concrete than words and well wishes.
Of the programs King has in mind include providing after-care services such as peer mentors, long-term mental health counselors. King would also like to set up a safehouse in Westchester County to serve as a resource for the youth in and after they leave the detention system which will help to prevent them from falling through the cracks.
“A lot of these kids you have to break down barriers in order to get to them. We want to change the dynamics; we want to change the narrative.” King said.
King is asking the community to rally around this crucial cause and help launch these programs for youth of color. Take Trips MES is accepting donations. For more information visit taketripsmes.org.
Wendy Mbekelu is a freelance writer based in Dobbs Ferry.