“I had a lot of shame about going to prison, a deep-rooted shame. And I needed to do something where I felt I accomplished something positive that my family could be proud of, that my friends could be proud of, that I could be proud of,” says Vivian Nixon, executive director of College & Community Fellowship.
Nixon knows firsthand how difficult it can be to try and find purpose after years of incarceration. She also knows the power education has to transform lives. While trying to get a college education, she found that most of the services being provided to women leaving prison were grounded in low-wage jobs or substance abuse treatment. “Services that people absolutely need,” she says. “But College & Community Fellowship was the only organization I was able to find that focused on access to higher education and all the benefits that come with that.”
Nixon has long believed that expanding access to quality education is essential in the effort to end mass incarceration and empower overlooked communities. Through College & Community Fellowship, a Ford grantee, she helps women with criminal histories gain access to higher education.
She believes it’s important it is for society to reimagine how it views and treats formerly incarcerated individuals. “I think the easiest issue to solve is the way we think about the people we're serving,” says Nixon. “Rather than having this transactional relationship with them, a checklist of things they need to become before they're acceptable to society, let's have a transformational relationship. And that’s why I believe education is important. Because education is not a transaction. It is a transformational process.”
Nixon’s story is part of the #FutureIsHers multimedia series of interviews, essays, and more, celebrating the innovators, risk-takers, and change-makers the Ford Foundation has proudly supported and the impact they’ve had on the lives of women and girls everywhere. Despite the many challenges women and girls face, around the world they’re rising up. Determined and persistent, they’re leading the way in showing us what gender justice looks like, disrupting inequality and creating a world where social change is possible: The future is hers.