Cross-Cultural, Urban, Reformed, Ecumenical

McCormick Launches Free Public Education Series


On Journey: Healing & Equipping, Historical Memory & Justice, and Reparations & Radical Imagination will offer nine months of programming to raise the collective consciousness around issues of racism, incarceration and justice.

Leaving a year that was filled with social, political and racial unrest, the Solidarity Building Initiative at McCormick is beginning 2021 with nine months of free public education programs designed to shed light and offer insights on creating a better world for people and communities impacted by the criminal legal system. 

On Journey takes off with a Spring Community Course on healing and equipping individuals to be community healers and justice makers, then travels through the Summer Community Course around historical memory and justice. It concludes with the Autumn Community Course that will look at reparations and radical imagination. 

“There has been growing interest around these topics,” said Jia Johnson, Program Director for McCormick’s Solidarity Building Initiative for Liberative Carceral Education at Cook County Jail and head of this initiative. “Programs last year, like Isolation in Perspective, which was a partnership with Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, learning opportunities offered to students at the jail, participation in McCormick Days and events host by community partners inspired us to find new ways to offer community events that raise our collective consciousness around issues of incarceration.”

This year’s pilot season will be held one night a week. Participants will be able to engage with the quarterly theme by selecting to participate in a variety of learning opportunities such as public and political education series, book conversation groups, and communal healing practices.

“As we’ve been planning these series, it’s been important to us to invite people who were incarcerated to be part of the planning group,” noted Johnson. “They are closest to the problem and closest to identifying the solutions. We cannot do this work apart from the critical expertise of formerly incarcerated people.”

During one of the group’s planning sessions, Miea Walker, a prison abolitionist and criminal justice advocate, asked, "How do we plan to shed light on the unique experiences of formerly incarcerated women?" McCormick's program has primarily served men detained at Cook County Department of Corrections.

That question gave inspiration to the team’s efforts to highlight the challenges of women who are or have been incarcerated. Additional inspiration came from learning about black women who provided reading materials and educational support to newly freed enslaved people during America’s Reconstruction period.

“These literary activists used reading materials as a way to liberate black communities from the harmful, dehumanizing, and destructive ideology of racism and white supremacy that sought to keep Black people from accessing necessary resource for their flourishing,” Johnson said. “Women who have been incarcerated have been part of our discussions, shaping the work we are doing, and they will be facilitating some of the sessions. While our programs are centered around those who have been incarcerated and their communities, we believe education is an important tool to help those who caused violence and those who were victims of violence to see the psychological repair that’s needed for everyone.”

Along with the numerous courses that the program will offer, Johnson sees this public curriculum as an opportunity to find and build a community that is in solidarity with those who are and have been impacted by the carceral system. “What I hope to see is people getting connected with others who are grounding their work to change the carceral system in their faith, a commitment to healing their communities and a desire to see the flourishing of all people,” said Johnson. “I’m looking for individuals to take away from each session a story, experience or a moment that transforms or challenges their perspectives and calls them to social action. I believe that will happen when we come with curiosity, wonder and an openness to listen for innovative ways that those on the outside and those on the inside – while separated by jail walls – can journey together and equip ourselves with tools that heal us and our communities.”

All On Journey events are free and open to the public. Course dates, times and registration information are available here.