PHOTO BY MERCY BAEZ
BY ISAAC I. SCOTT
As we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, it is not merely a ritual of remembrance but a call to action, an invitation to examine the enduring relevance of his teachings in our complex world. Dr. King's principles, rooted in nonviolent resistance, justice, equality, and a vision of the "Beloved Community," serve as a compass for navigating the challenges of 2023.
Nonviolent Resistance Domestic and Global Perspective:
In the spirit of Dr. King's commitment to nonviolence, it is paramount that we reject violence as a solution. From street violence to global conflicts, the lessons of history show that violence begets more violence, especially to the detriment of the oppressed. In 2023, honoring Dr. King's legacy means advocating for nonviolent solutions, fostering understanding, and refusing to enable destructive cycles.
Integration and Beloved Community:
As we witness debates over immigration and asylum seekers, Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community" becomes a guiding light. Recognizing that the history of the Americas is a tapestry of migrations, we must welcome new neighbors fleeing dangerous conditions. True integration requires dismantling entitlement and embracing the diversity that has defined the American story.
Justice and Equality/Poverty and Economic Justice:
The persistence of Million Dollar Blocks and food insecurity highlights the ongoing struggle for racial and economic justice. Dr. King's dedication to eradicating poverty and linking it to racial injustice is a call for equitable distribution of resources. In 2023, we must relentlessly oppose the punishment paradigm by persistently pursuing the allocation of financial resources to community-based organizations working to offset injustice, inequality, poverty, and economic injustice.
Dr. King's advocacy for civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws resonates strongly today. In 2023, we must recognize the moral responsibility to resist injustice peacefully and effectively. Silence is complicity, and speaking out against injustice is an imperative to evoke positive change.
Building on Dr. King's emphasis on coalition building, initiatives like the Arts Justice Safety Coalition (AJSC) exemplify the power of diverse groups united for a common cause. In 2023, recognizing the benefits of sustained networks, shared responsibility, and constructive criticism, we should strive for collaboration to amplify efforts for systemic, cultural, and social change.
Education and Empowerment:
The battle against revisionist history and miseducation is ongoing. Dr. King's belief in the power of education remains a beacon. In 2023, the imperative to provide the best quality education for all, countering efforts to rewrite history, must become a commitment to empowering the next generation.
Faith and Values:
Dr. King's principles were deeply rooted in his Christian faith. In 2023, embodying the essence of treating others with love, embodying the principle of being judged by character rather than skin color, becomes an homage to Dr. King's values.
In conclusion, as we honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 2023, let us draw inspiration from his principles and apply them methodically to our present challenges. Dr. King's teachings remain a source of wisdom and guidance, urging us to continue the journey towards justice, equality, and a society where love and understanding triumph over hatred and violence.
Isaac I. Scott is Five-time Change Agent Award winner, Multimedia Visual Artist, Journalist, and Independent Consultant.
Photo by Pioneer Works
By Isaac I. Scott
As the founder of Isaac’s Quarterly, Isaac Scott, I've faced the uphill battle as an artist who was formerly incarcerated, where my work was unjustly devalued, and my personal narrative exploited. These experiences propel Isaac’s Quarterly's unwavering commitment to establishing a platform where artists receive fair compensation and acknowledgment.
Navigating the challenging terrain of being a strictly practicing artist is an uphill battle, and Isaac’s Quarterly acknowledges the inherent struggle. Artists, especially those with a history of incarceration, often find it difficult to sustain themselves financially. Our commitment extends beyond fair compensation to addressing the broader issue of artists struggling to make a living solely through their art.
Isaac’s Quarterly stands at the intersection of art, justice, and social change. Our journey underscores the urgent need for fair compensation and acknowledgment in the creative industry. Far too often, artists, especially those with a history of incarceration, find their stories commodified without due recognition or compensation.
Our tireless commitment includes a strong emphasis on the role of artists in social change movements and legal and political advocacy strategies. The arts are a powerful catalyst for change, and Isaac’s Quarterly believes in harnessing this potential for a more just and equitable society. Artists should be recognized as integral contributors to social change, and their perspectives should inform legal and political advocacy strategies.
In this pursuit, we've established The Confined Arts (TCA), a charitable program developed by Isaac's Quarterly, LLC. Fiscally sponsored by Another Choice Youth and Family Outreach Inc., TCA cultivates and showcases the talents of artists directly impacted by mass incarceration and intersecting social justice issues. TCA empowers artists to express their voices through various art forms, aiming to abolish inhumane narratives and socially degrading stigmas associated with past experiences. Through collaborative activism, research, education, and training, TCA equips artists to influence policy change and advocate for a world anchored on empathy and healing.
Formerly incarcerated artists face unique challenges in obtaining fair compensation for their stories, and TCA actively addresses this by providing a platform for artistic expression and advocacy. Exploitation for the sake of an organization's fundraising campaign is an unfortunate reality that TCA seeks to combat, advocating for ethical storytelling practices that prioritize the artist's agency and dignity.
Racial disparities persist in the entertainment industry, with black actors and producers encountering distinct challenges. Black women, in particular, may receive more than they have in the past, yet the gap between their worth and actual compensation remains evident. Isaac’s Quarterly and TCA are vocal about addressing these disparities and promoting equity in the creative sector.
To better support local community-based artists, we propose concrete solutions. Establishing industry standards for fair compensation, promoting diversity in decision-making roles, fostering mentorship programs, raising awareness about the vital role of artists in social change movements, and supporting community arts programs like TCA are crucial steps. Collaboration with grassroots organizations and advocating for inclusive policies will contribute to a more just and equitable creative landscape.
In conclusion, Isaac’s Quarterly and TCA invite the artistic community and industry stakeholders to join us in building a future where artists are not only acknowledged but also compensated fairly for their invaluable contributions. Through collective efforts, we can create a thriving artistic ecosystem that reflects the richness of diverse stories and experiences, which plays a pivotal role in social change and advocacy, and supports the flourishing of community arts programs.
Isaac I. Scott is Five-time Change Agent Award winner, Multimedia Visual Artist, Journalist, and Independent Consultant.
A FILM BY THE ARTS, JUSTICE AND SAFETY COALITION
CLAIMING THE JUSTICE NARRATIVE PROJECT
BEFORE TIME/AFTER TIME is a film produced as the culmination of the Claiming the Justice Narrative media and advocacy project, which seeks to support recent incursions in the felony court space by furthering alternatives to incarceration policy shifts.
Beginning in the fall of 2021, twenty system-impacted people participated in eight workshops led by teaching artists from four organizations: Recess, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, Dances for Solidarity, and The Phoenix Players Theatre Group. During these sessions, participants were introduced to various performance techniques in movement, improvisation, and autobiographical storytelling.
SUMMER SCHEDULE IS NOW AVAILABLE. REGISTER TODAY
The Strategic Arts and Education Initiative summer schedule is available, and REGISTRATION IS OPEN. Please see the workshops and courses below and share them with the community and participate.
The Ford Foundation has awarded The Confined Arts, in partnership with Another Choice Youth and Family Outreach Inc, with a grant to launch the Strategic Arts & Education (SAE) initiative to provide free artistic literacy, and capacity building, training, and workshops to new and existing community-based artists (specifically those that have justice-involvement), young adults, students, advocates, teaching artists, practitioners, legal advocates, and organizations who want to learn more about entrepreneurship, community enhancement and/or how they can use the arts to mitigate the imprint of the criminal legal system.
In conjunction with Coby Kennedy’s Summer 2021 exhibition Kalief Browder: The Box, Pioneer Works, For Freedoms, and Negative Space presented Beyond The Box, a four-part program series that considered the realities of mass incarceration through the lens of art and activism. Over the course of four weeks, The Broadcast is releasing Beyond The Box’s accompanying video series, each paired with a newly commissioned text that further elaborates on the thematic pillars charted by For Freedoms: Awakening, Listening, Healing, and Justice. Below, for Listening, Pastor Isaac Scott speaks to the harms of incarceration and introduces works by several writers whom he’s worked with through his program The Confined Arts.
Isaac Scott, founder of the Confined Arts, sits in his studio. "Mental health is stigmatized in this space. If I show you the scars of my incarceration, it’s only going to make you have more judgments," Isaac said. "I’m carrying two stigmas simultaneously. You feel like you have to show your best self coming home, wear these masks. You can’t show the trauma. That becomes more emotionally distressing." Art gave him a space to express his emotions.
Pastor Isaac Scott, who founded the Confined Arts at the Columbia University Center for Justice, said the group’s work and outreach actually expanded during the pandemic since everything went virtual “It’s kind of bittersweet, but you can actually do more work when everyone is Zooming,” he said. “It was easier to reach across state lines to get to people. We’ve been able to collaborate with artists all across the country.”
OP-ED BY PASTOR ISAAC SCOTT IN COLUMBIA DAILY SPECTATOR
BY ISAAC SCOTT • APRIL 6, 2021 AT 2:11 AM
America is a violent, petty nation. The people of this country call for humane justice from the highest hills, but “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the way this nation handles its own failures. I’ve said much in the past about the hypocrisies of the current movement to abolish prisons. Until we clearly define exactly what true justice looks like for every group of people, we will continue to see people protest against systemic oppression in the form of incarceration for some people and justify state violence incarceration as a system of punishment. America’s go-to response, prison, is a violent monster without taste buds but with an inexhaustible appetite. The immediate emotional response when a person breaks the law is to seek out punitive responses to deter their behavior rather than invest resources and time into addressing the root causes of the issues that led to the crime. Moving toward and creating a more harm-reductive criminal legal system means that we must define accountability outside of the context of punishment. We live in a nation where the line between accountability and punishment is not clear, and because there is no distinction, the two concepts become one in their application.
The most important reason that we as a nation must abandon the punishment cycle and begin to find alternatives to incarceration for every person, especially for people who are convicted of violent crimes, is because violence only begets violence, and responding to a person who becomes violent by placing them in a violent system is a recipe for disaster. Research shows that incarceration has negative psychological effects on people, including but not limited to “a dependence on institutional structure and contingencies. Hypervigilance, interpersonal distrust, and suspicion. Emotional over-control, alienation, and psychological distancing. Social withdrawal and isolation. Incorporation of exploitative norms of prison culture. Diminished sense of self-worth and personal value. And post-traumatic stress reactions to the pains of imprisonment.” Every year, hundreds of thousands of people enter the New York state prison system and while everyone is chewed up, not everyone is spit back out into society the same way, and many are left to live with the remnants of the psychological aspects of incarceration.
Public safety can no longer be an excuse for this nation’s reliance on incarceration. Research shows us that prison does not keep us safe. We need to think outside of the box if we truly seek to identify nonpunitive methods for accountability, especially for people who commit heinous crimes. I admit: In my 38 years of life, I have seen and heard things that made me consider whether jail was the best place for people who commit certain acts. Likewise, as an abolitionist who is following the Derek Chauvin trial, I still struggle with the dilemma of navigating the emotional space between healthy accountability and retribution. While I want this man to be held accountable for his despicable actions, at the same time, I wouldn’t wish prison on my own worst enemy. No doubt, any time physical harm is at stake, there is a culturally responsive need for temporary separation that is time-sensitive and concerned for the well-being of all parties involved, but I do not believe that jail or prison is the separation that is needed for any form of safety prevention.
Are we seeking accountability that humanizes every person involved, or are we seeking revenge against people who break certain laws? Prison should not be the answer for addressing crime or any societal issue. Prison should not be the answer to the people that society feels are irredeemable. The deprived social environment of prison can potentially impede one’s social capacity to navigate various social obligations post-incarceration, such as employment, housing, and other family and social obligations. The secondary effects of incarceration are being emotionally ignored in the heat of the moment and rather than humanizing each person by putting resources into dealing with the roots of our societal issue, the popular pejorative fosters an out of sight, out of mind attitude and casts certain people away never to be remembered again, while others are worth giving a second and third chance. Before we remain content that we can continue to send people through this violent state apparatus, we should understand that many people do not survive incarceration and that just because a person is able to avoid being rearrested, it doesn’t mean that safety is present for that individual and that the psychological effects of incarceration are not haunting them and causing equal stress in their lives and in the lives of their families.
Recycling punishment is not the solution—prevention is. If we truly want public safety, then we must begin providing preventative harm-reductive solutions in four significant areas: first, mental health in order to prevent the incarceration of people who would benefit from medical support; second, social support and wellness in order to provide more therapeutic and intervention work with struggling families; third, educational support to foster knowledge, access, capacity, and opportunity amid difficult living circumstances; and fourth, economic support to address poverty and food insecurity. Until then, we will continue to be a nation reliant on incarceration. Preventing incarceration by addressing the socioeconomic issues that lead people to commit crimes is a leap toward human justice and the thoughtful abolition of our current criminal justice system.
Isaac I. Scott Five-time Change Agent Award winner, Multimedia Visual Artist, Journalist, and Independent Consultant. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacsQuarterly.
OP-ED BY PASTOR ISAAC SCOTT IN COLUMBIA DAILY SPECTATOR
BY ISAAC SCOTT • MARCH 22, 2021 AT 11:56 PM
Too often, the role of strategic arts engagement as a transformative tool for social justice is overlooked and undervalued by leaders who don’t traditionally take artistic approaches to social change within their own work strategies. However, when it comes to creating more informed and culturally inclusive policies, the role of the arts in the social justice landscape cannot continue to be minimized to supplemental involvements, which only feature artistic activities as a secondary option for social engagement. Instead, art should be in every change agent’s toolbox as a means to change perception, build relationships, and foster action.
The racial solidarity that arose from George Floyd’s murder shows us that real change will take place at the speed of the conscience of this nation and not at the speed at which we are able to procedurally change law or policy. Collective empathy can expedite justice. That said, I believe that if we want to see change in people’s hearts and minds, it is imperative for every leader and change agent to recognize that strategic arts engagement can instigate a paradigm shift in the consciousness of this country. We must begin to tap into the arts’ transformative power to create new narratives about justice, build sustainable relationships across differing perspectives, and reimagine creative solutions for problems in our community.
During my time in prison, art was not only a huge way for me to psychologically cope with institutional living but also a way for me to financially provide for myself by selling my artwork on stationery supplies. Not only have I witnessed something as insignificant as an envelope with a cartoon character drawn on it serving as the first step toward restoring communication in a damaged relationship, but I have also witnessed documentary films influence politicians to take action in ways that they otherwise might not have.
One recent example of the power of the arts through film can be found in Ava DuVernay’s 2019 documentary series called “When They See Us,” which depicts the false arrests and convictions of five teenagers for the aggravated assault and rape of a white woman in Central Park on April 19, 1989. The explicit portrayal of the ruses the New York Police Department and Manhattan District Attorney used to obtain confessions and convictions led to the resignation of Law School Professor Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor on the Central Park Jogger case, shortly after the film’s release. This call to action was led by the Black Law Students Associations in its call for more inclusive teaching at the Law School.
Just think, under Lederer’s academic leadership, thousands of students were taught by a professor who, during the case, willfully engaged in racially biased, dehumanizing methods of prosecuting, which will potentially impact generations of Black and Indigenous people trapped in the criminal legal system. Up until the release of “When They See Us,” calls for her resignation had been unsuccessful.
Later in the same year, while investigating the very unfortunate murder of Tess Majors, an 18-year-old first-year at Barnard (rest in peace), Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, enlightened by the same documentary and open to community concerns, cautioned the NYPD not to repeat the same ruses with the teenager they were questioning for Majors’ murder. Brewer’s caution ultimately led to a much more humane and restorative approach to the apprehension and prosecution of the children involved in this senseless crime.
If we are to see change so swiftly through artistic methods of storytelling, I pray that every person who is seeking social change feels utterly compelled to establish the arts as a necessary, transformative tool that brings new insights and can foster relationships that will expedite the process for change to take place. As human beings with emotional responses, we are all moved by some form of the arts, whether it is creative writing, poetry, drama, music, dance, performing arts, the visual arts, the graphic arts, filmmaking, or some other art. When used efficiently, the arts can foster insight, different perspectives, and concrete actions.
Many times it takes strategic arts engagement to get the point of a particular matter in a way that demonstrates the urgency with clarity. Many times it takes a drama-based warm-up exercise to bring down the guards of strangers attending a public event. This then allows for relationship-building and networking opportunities to scale the work of new and existing campaigns through strategic partnering and shared resources. Many times a visual can cause people with polar opposite backgrounds to empathize and relate across differences. Many times it takes artistic exercises to help us to imagine better methods for cultural representation and relationship-building outside of the traditional norms. And many times it takes the arts to help us to see ourselves and this nation through a social mirror for us to remove the speck from our own eyes.
Pastor Isaac Scott is a three-time Change Agent Award winner, multimedia visual artist, and human rights activist studying as a Justice in Education scholar at the School of General Studies. Follow Isaac on Twitter @IsaacsQuarterly.
EDITOR IN CHIEF
ISAAC I. SCOTT,