This interview is part of Shared Justice’s Transformative Justice series running throughout January and February. The series explores one of the most urgent areas for reform within the juvenile justice system: juvenile probation. Focusing on promising practices in diversion and prevention, including Credible Messenger Mentoring, the series will highlight opportunities for government and civil society to create a juvenile justice system that is more equitable, effective, and restorative.
To continue Transformative Justice, Yasmine interviewed Bishop Darren Ferguson, Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church and Reentry Coordinator in Orange, NJ. In this conversation, Yasmine and Bishop Ferguson discuss what makes someone a Credible Messenger, the challenges surrounding CMM’s implementation, and how religious institutions can play a role in supporting young people.
- Credible Messenger Mentoring (CMM) is a simple idea based in restorative justice. It pairs justice-involved young people with mentors who have similar lived experiences and often live in the same community as the young person.
- There are multiple traits that make someone a good Credible Messenger, but essential qualities are authenticity and integrity. Credible Messengers don’t have to be formerly incarcerated. They can be anyone who has a message and demonstrates authenticity.
- It’s important to convey the value of CMM to municipalities to increase its effectiveness. This will help it gain national traction and reach more young people.
- CMM faces unique challenges in implementation. Cities and officials often harbor distrust toward individuals who were formerly incarcerated, which may make them wary of Credible Messengers.
- Religious organizations should be active in justice work and should consider partnering with a CMM organization.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Yasmine “YazzieSpeaks” Arrington was born and raised in Washington, DC. She is a 2015 graduate from Elon University with a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communications and History. Yasmine earned her Master of Divinity degree from the Howard University School of Divinity in May 2018. Yasmine was a 2020 Center for Public Justice Sacred Sector Fellow where she had the opportunity to serve as an advocacy intern with Prison Fellowship.
In 2010, while a junior in high school, Yasmine founded the nonprofit ScholarCHIPS (www.scholarchipsfund.org), an organization that provides college scholarships, mentoring and a support network to children of incarcerated parents, inspiring them to complete their college education. ScholarCHIPS has awarded over $300,000 in college scholarships to 76 scholars, with 30 graduates to date.
Yasmine is the author of Daily Reflections for Social Entrepreneurs Journal. Yasmine has been featured in TeenVogue, Essence, Black Enterprise, Forbes Magazine, The Washington Post, the Baltimore Times, and on ABC7 News WJLA and NBC4 for her community work with ScholarCHIPS. Yasmine is a recipient of awards for her community work including the Linowes Leadership Award from the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the Peace First Prize, the DC Social Innovation Prize, Angel Among Us Award by the Negro Council of Women, the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award, the Samuel Halperin Public Service Award, Radio One WKYS Top 30 Under 30, Washington Business Journal 40 Under 40, and others.
Bishop Darren Ferguson. Born and raised in the village of Harlem and in the Bronx, NY, Darren A. Ferguson is known as a leader for this generation – a preacher, teacher, singer, motivational speaker and social activist. He serves as the 7th Pastor in the 103-year history of Bethel Baptist Church in Orange, NJ. He has served as the Reentry Coordinator for the City and provides both services for returned citizens as well as creates both Credible Messenger and Rites of Passage programs for the city since 2020. In that role, he has led the city’s public safety food distribution program for nearly 2 years, leading a team that gives out nearly 5 tons of food per week, including non-perishables and fresh produce. He is also creating the city’s employment program and assisting the police director in creating reforms in the way the Orange Police Department deals with both reentry and mental health calls. He served as the inaugural Director of Graham Windham’s Unlimited Potential program, for criminal justice involved 16 and 17 youth and as Director of their Hunts Point Beacon Program. He is the National Director of Public Relations for Healing Communities, USA – providing training and technical assistance for houses of worship to become “Stations of Hope” for the formerly incarcerated. Over the last 20 years, he has served in organizations such as LaGuardia Community College. the Osborne Association, the Interfaith Center of New York, SUNY College at Old Westbury, The Children’s’ Village and as Youth Director for The National Action Network. He ministered for 5 years as Youth Minister at Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church and is a former Team Chaplain for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. He serves as president of the Board of Directors of Fathers Incorporated, a national clearinghouse for responsible Fatherhood.
Dr. Ferguson had the honor of helping to lead the charge during the national campaign for the Fair Chance Act, wherein returned citizens will be given a fair chance at employment. He helped the law get passed in New York City in the Summer of 2015 and served as chair of a White House meeting on Recidivism, Gun Violence and Police Brutality during the Obama Administration. A graduate of New York Theological Seminary’s (NYTS) Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry Programs (2009, 2017), Bishop serves as an adjunct professor for the Certificate in Ministry program at NYTS.
He has received numerous awards, including the NY City Male Involvement Consortiums “Father We Cherish” Award in 2001, the first ever “Amos Award” from Sojourners Magazine/The Call To Renewal, Inc. in 2002 (an award also given to President Obama in 2006). He was honored as one of 2005’s top business and community leaders in the tri-state area by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, the Christopher (Notorious B.I.G.) Wallace Memorial Foundation, along with Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus. He has been honored several times for his work in the areas of Youth Advocacy and Civil Rights by the New York City Council. In 2010, he was honored with the “House of Justice” Award by Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network. July 15th, 2015, the day of his ordination to the Episcopacy was marked as “Bishop Darren Ferguson Day” by then NYC Public Advocate Letitia James. Most recently, he was honored by Bethel Baptist Church as one of their Men of The Year after serving as pastor for less than 6 months.
Dr. Ferguson has published an autobiography, entitled “How I Became An Angry Black Man: From Prison to the Pulpit” – which is being revised for reprinting. Most importantly, he is a proud and devoted father to his daughter, Naia, and a loving husband to his beautiful wife, Kim. Ferguson speaks the plain language of the people, both young and old. “I have truly been redeemed,” says Ferguson, “and if I can be a part of the redemptive process of spiritual healing for just one boy, girl, man or woman, then I have been obedient to my calling.”