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Families of Harambee offers a new path to re-entry into society for those once incarcerated

CHESTER — Up the stairs of the Marketplace and through the vividly painted halls into the multi-purpose community room at the Chester Cultural Arts and Technology Center Tuesday, families gathered around the kinara, often seen during Kwanzaa.

The program, Families of Harambee, was developed by Tara F. Jones, president of the CAAT Center.

"It was originally developed just so that any family could work on their relationships, learn culture, just have a space to love themselves," she said, adding that she had since learned that some of the participants of the seven-week program were formerly incarcerated women.

Families of Harambee is only one program involving re-entry residents at the CAAT Center. Along with meditation, mindfulness and computer literacy programs, the center is also the offices of Dawn Chamberlain, who with her sister Lucretia run the two programs of the Hooper Council Positive Potential Project, including an in-school art program for youth and a group home for female ex-offenders anticipated to open in the next 90 days.

Jones developed Families of Harambee, meaning "Pulling It All Together" in Swahili, as a weekly program to bring adults and youth together to delve into the principles of Kwanzaa. On Tuesday, they were exploring Ujamaa, cooperative economics and one of the activities that night was role-playing different scenarios through a card game.

One of those was being in jail. Those who pull that card have to sit out the round while others' lives go on.

"We talk about how some people that might be incarcerated cannot see a future for their kids so they tell them there's no future and our model's like, 'You don't have the right to do that,'" Jones said. "Because you made the decisions that you made does not mean your child has to follow that cycle so you have to learn how to support that child in a new cycle.

"That's what we do – we're looking to break cycles of poverty, break cycles of incarceration," she said.

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