BPI’s community reading event brings together students, faculty, and staff in and out of prison.
At the start of each new year, BPI hosts its annual community reading event, BPI Reads. Through this event, BPI students, faculty, and staff reflect and engage in conversation around a shared work. Community reading programs create opportunities to explore together the issues that are relevant to our lives in addition to reducing stress, heightening empathy, and creating more active and aware citizens.
This year’s book was Scenes from My Life, a memoir by the late Michael K. Williams — activist, actor, dancer, and Brooklynite.
BPI was thrilled to work with the book’s co-author, Jon Sternfeld, editor, Madhulika Sikka, and Michael K. Williams’ nephew, Dominic DuPont, who joined us for group discussions held on campus and in six of the seven facilities where BPI operates.
Below are reflections from Dominic, Jon, and Madhulika on the experience of joining BPI students in conversation for this year’s BPI Reads.
Dominic Dupont, nephew of Michael K. Williams:
“In January, I had the honor and privilege to have the amazing experience of doing a tour of five of the seven facilities that BPI has in New York State.
The simple truth is that this experience was beyond exceptional, beyond anything that I thought that I would have experienced. The thoughtfulness, intensity, and insight from the students was palpable. I left every facility, feeling more inspired, focused, and with an understanding that there’s so much more work to be done. At the same time, I am relieved that the BPI students and BPI faculty have already started that work.
So many of the students’ experiences, several who were friends of mine, were applicable to many of the experiences that Michael spoke about in Scenes From My Life — the ability to overcome adversity, achieve excellence, and prosperity resonated with me. One thing that Michael was clear about in his book was he wanted his story told not because it was unique, but because it was not.
The Michael K. Williams I know would be so proud of the BPI students and BPI faculty for all of the amazing work that you are doing.”
Jon Sternfeld, co-author of Scenes From My Life:
“Getting the opportunity to speak with BPI students about the life, career, and activism of Michael K. Williams was among the most impactful things I’ve ever done as a writer. Seeing how much they engaged with the book and with Mike as an author, made me hopeful for the future, as books are the one technology that don’t need any improvement. I know if he were here, his face would light up at all the ways that his story helped others view their own lives. That’s what he wrote the book for in the first place.”
Madhulika Sikka, executive editor of Scenes From My Life
“As an editor it is rare to have direct contact with readers, thus my visits with students of the BPI program were truly among the most rewarding I have experienced. These were deep, deep readers, who were so conversant about how the book touched them and spoke to them. I was reminded of the power of books to reach everyone. That so many of the students also talked about their own writing and how healing it was to write their own stories is a testament to the extraordinary success of the Bard Prison Initiative program and its transformative power.”