North Park University School of Restorative Arts held a graduation ceremony at Stateville Correctional Center for 28 resident scholars in honor of earning their Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from North Park Theological Seminary. Two students began the program inside Stateville and, upon release, completed their studies on North Park’s campus.
The graduation was the first of its kind in an Illinois Department of Corrections facility and represents a profound commitment to liberative and restorative education. Commencement speaker Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx, who was invited to speak by the students, acknowledged that while she was not the obvious choice, she identified with the graduates in powerful ways, saying, “I am you.”
The inaugural graduating School of Restorative Arts (SRA) cohort brings together free and incarcerated students to study in the shared Stateville on-site space— unifying a transformative learning experience for all. In his remarks during the June 15th ceremony, SRA inside student Jamal Bakr said, “We are receiving our master’s degree because our potential is not defined by our worst mistakes. Let today’s event be an example of what happens when opportunities are created, potentials are unignored and complete restoration is always the aim of justice.”
This one-of-its-kind master’s degree, offered in prisons throughout Illinois, prepares individuals for restoration ministries in contexts impacted by violence and generational trauma through non-violent communication and trauma-informed healing. The four-year degree is offered to over 100 Stateville and Logan Correctional Centers students.
Many graduates share how they’d grown throughout the program. “I’m bringing the knowledge of my degree to all those I meet in this prison, this knowledge is so badly needed here,” said William Jones.
The faith-filled celebration was attended by North Park President Mary K. Surridge and the seminary faculty. “Some might doubt that love and beauty could be so evident in such a dreary setting, but all who were present witnessed how creative collaboration, belief in the transformative power of God’s spirit, and tenacious commitment to justice can accomplish what might first appear to be impossible,” said North Park’s Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Edwards.