There’s always something to be said when you’re doing something for the community you grew up in or serving a population where you can relate directly to their experiences.

by Yasmine Arrington

April 2, 2019

I am the Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.  The “CHIPS” in ScholarCHIPS stands for Children of Incarcerated Parents.  Since its founding in 2010, we have awarded more than $100,000 in college scholarships and have touched the lives of 51 scholars so far.  Currently, we are reviewing applications for the 2019-2020 academic year with interviews scheduled for April and May, and final decisions will be made in June.

The idea for ScholarCHIPS came to me when I was a junior in high school.  I was participating in a youth leadership program called LearnServe International (LSI), and my task was to identify an issue in my community that I wanted to change or improve, then come up with a creative solution, known as a “venture.”  Right around that time, my grandmother and I were conducting research on college scholarships I could apply for to help cover my college tuition.  During that process my grandmother, who raised me, observed that with all the scholarships available, there were none for the youth of incarcerated parents.  That was the “aha” moment for both of us!  I started doing research on mass incarceration and discovered that more than 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in prison.  This issue is near and dear to my heart because my own father has been in and out of prison and jail for the majority of my life.  So, when I saw that statistic and realized there were millions of kids like me I decided to start ScholarCHIPS.

I love my scholars and the work that I’m doing. There’s always something to be said when you’re doing something for the community you grew up in or serving a population where you can relate directly to their experiences.  ScholarCHIPS started out as just an idea.  I didn’t know it was going to turn out to be a long- term, full-fledged organization, but I am grateful that that is the way it has continued to develop. We continue to receive great support and love from so many different people in the community and organizations and foundations across the United States.  What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing what it feels like to have a parent who has been incarcerated for many years and how that affects your development, your opportunities in general, and your access to higher education and knowing that I have the power and resources to help improve this for other youth with incarcerated parents.

I do a lot of public speaking and preaching about the effects of parental incarceration and the critical need to break the cycles of intergenerational incarceration and poverty.  I think criminal justice reform is an uphill battle and I do believe we’re climbing upwards, but it is still an ongoing battle.  We are still tiptoeing around the need to totally transform our prison system from a punitive to a rehabilitative system.  It’s not enough to only give nonviolent offenders a second chance but throw everyone else under the bus.  It’s not enough to commute the sentences of people we have had in prison for twenty-plus years who were innocent in the first place and then pat ourselves on the back.  Real prison reform means dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex, which amounts to a modern day economic slave system.

Leading with Conviction is amazing and I know the training is forever going to change my life and the life of my organization.  It’s hard for me to put it into words and I still have yet to develop the language to efficiently explain and capture the transformational leadership training and relationship building that I’ve experienced through this program.    After only one forum, I’ve already changed my perspective about how I lead.  I’m so glad and grateful that I’m part of this program and the 2019 Leading with Conviction cohort!

Yasmine Arrington has a BA in Strategic Communications and History from Elon University and a Master of Divinity degree from Howard University School of Divinity.  She is a certified trainer for Healing Communities USA.