Published August 20, 2019

By Ferlanda Fox Nixon

Grant supports the Rikers Public Memory Project initiative

The David Rockefeller Fund has awarded a $30,000 grant to the Humanities Action Lab (HAL) for one of its newest initiatives, the Rikers Public Memory Project: A Community Truth and Healing Process (RPMP). Housed at Express Newark at Rutgers University–Newark, HAL is a coalition of universities, issue organizations, and public spaces in 40 cities, and growing, that collaborate to produce community-curated public humanities projects on urgent social issues.

RPMP is a community-based, participatory initiative through which HAL, Just Leadership USA, and Create Forward will activate collective stories about the adverse impact of Rikers Island to show its support of the #CLOSErikers initiative and promote a more just and humane criminal justice system.

“The Rikers Public Memory Project memorializes the harm done by the institution as a way to make sure that those horrors are never repeated and develop more just alternatives for the future. This work is an example of how artistic practice can humanize social justice issues, thus inspiring change in a way little else can,” said Lexi Fisher, program manager of the David Rockefeller Fund.

The RPMP forms part of HAL’s commitment to activating participatory public memory for social change. The project grew out of HAL’s States of Incarceration (SOI) project, whose New York chapter focused on remembering Rikers Island at the inception of the closure movement. SOI is a national initiative that explores the roots and current realities of mass incarceration across the country.

“Using history and memory as vehicles for social justice is a core value for HAL and the center of our methodology, while also being a part of Rutgers-Newark’s mission of leveraging diversity and collaboration in the interest of civic engagement and dialogue. Support from the David Rockefeller Fund will allow us to engage public memory and the #CLOSErikers movement, and model these values for other communities around the country,” HAL Director Liz Sevcenko shared.

According to Sevcenko, the RPMP will extend Rutgers-Newark’s commitment to project-based, immersive learning by giving students the opportunity to conduct oral histories around Rikers, conduct research on the jail and its impact, learn about memory-based and trauma-informed storytelling as a form of activism and healing, and other ways that memory and history can be used to mobilize around reparative justice. Moreover, HAL envisions this partnership as one that will provide classroom learning, internships, and ongoing student engagement with the project as it continues to grow, and provide opportunities for further collaboration between HAL and its new campus partners NY-NJ Public History Project; Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; Honors Living-Learning Community, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center, P3 Collaboratory, and others.

Other RPMP activities will include the development of an oral history archive, which will be preserved at the New York Public Library, and the curation of a mobile exhibition in a decommissioned Q100 bus. The Q100 is the only available public transit route to Rikers Island.

Originally posted on Rutgers-Newark