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What was Flikshop's Take on the 2024 National Returning Citizens Conference?

Updated: Apr 17

When those impacted by the legal system are gathered together in freedom, resiliency, strength, and reclaimed dignity, there is a palpable current in the air.  Feelings of solidarity are shared because this is a group that is not foreign to rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty doing the hard work of restoration in their communities. This solidarity was felt by many, including our Flikshop team while in attendance at the 2024 National Returning Citizens Conference in Arlington last week. 


Hosted by the 400 Years of African American History Commission, our Flikshop team was beyond excited to be in fellowship with friends, advocates, allies, and change-makers from across the nation, sharing stories, imparting wisdom, instilling motivation, and building awareness around the work of empowering our communities and neighbors. 


keynote returning citizens conference
Program attendees during Friday's NRCC keynote address.

This year’s conference spanned five days including HBCU reunions, golf tournaments, prayer luncheons, screenings, rallies, and a march, all in addition to the conference schedule itself. All conference activities centered on advancing the national conversation on resilience and second chances via multiple keynote speakers, panels, breakout sessions and more.


Conference Day 1


Friday’s events kicked off with a word of prayer and recognition to conference organizers and then a powerful word from Fox Rich. Mrs. Rich described in detail how God has sustained her and her family during the decades-long incarceration of her husband and how radical love conquered the separations of the country’s prison-industrial complex.


Following her keynote address, and sprinkled throughout the Friday and Saturday conference schedule, attendees were able to attend a wide variety of breakout sessions focusing on different topics including faith, education, workforce, housing, research, health, law/justice, and technology. Our Flikshop team chose to divide and conquer, finding it easy to wish to be in multiple sessions at once!


Judge Karen Friedman National Returning Citizens Conference
Judge Friedman discussing opportunities within the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Lunch included musical performances from DMV local artists, who enriched the spirit of the room with their lyrics and talents. Following words from Judge Karen Friedman with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, attendees heard from a panel incorporating the voices of correctional leaders focused on supporting individuals within the system and how to best provide opportunities to position them for success returning home. 



Panel Correctional Leaders National Returning Citizens Conference
Panel of correctional leaders across the US and Caribbean.

Resilience Education session National Returning Citizens Conference
Engaging breakout session with Resilience Education.

Entering another fantastic round of breakout sessions, some of our team members attended an engaging and interactive presentation with our friends Tierney and Jessica at Resilience Education. Learning more of teaching through case studies and a teaching philosophy based on the socratic method, our Flikshop School of Business (FSB) team was excited to chop it up with fellow business educators in the space. Returning to the main salon, the conference agenda continued with another powerful panel highlighting leaders in the reentry space. Their conversation included: persistent and rising challenges within the work of assisting those returning home from prison, pathways to success, and lessons learned while doing the work in community. 


Resilience Education Flikshop School of Business Marcus Bullock Jessica Snow Tierney Fairchild Jessica Turner
Flikshop School of Business and Resilience Education team members following RE's session on. (Tierney Fairchild, Jessica Turner, Marcus Bullock, Jessica Snow, and Tyler Kelley)

One of these panelists was former FSB commencement speaker, Lamont Carey, Executive Director of the DC Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs who received an award for his unwavering commitment to breaking cycles of recidivism.It was compelling to see many

Lamont Carey African American History Commission
Lamont Carey receiving his award from the African American History Commission.

awards distributed that night to influential and trail-blazing leaders within the field of justice reform. An additional spotlight that evening was the screening of the BET+ film “Kemba”, based on the true story of Kemba Smith, who received an outrageous sentence for a crime she never committed, and the campaign for her appeal and clemency. To see this film draw  attention to the power of collaboration between Black civic organizations, sororities, celebrities, and lawmakers was stirring.

With the evening culminating in a networking reception, our team enjoyed being amongst friends and leaders and forging new connections toward new possibilities.


Conference Day 2 


Marcus Bullock CEO keynote National Returning Citizens Conference
Flikshop CEO, Marcus Bullock, delivers keynote address during day 2 of the NRCC.

Saturday morning was one of the most inspiring aspects of the convening. In a room of over 300 attendees, the Keynote Address was delivered by our own Flikshop CEO, Marcus Bullock. Marcus shared his journey as a 15-year-old teen who served time in the state of Virginia adult justice system for eight years. Marcus was able to engage with the audience in a profound way --- sharing his compelling personal narrative of overcoming adversity, profound lessons of resilience, transformation, navigating obstacles, hope and ultimately finding redemption.

  

Marcus stated, “My Mom Saved My Life”! Upon his release he notes he was inspired by his mom who wrote to him daily, sent pictures of places she visited and things she enjoyed for the latter six years of his incarceration. A few years following his release, Marcus developed the mobile app, Flikshop, that serves as a way families can stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones through photos and messages that are delivered on real products to jails and prisons around the country.

 


A panel of women that are preparing to speak at the NRCC Conference.
Women's Panel (see participants below)

The Mid-Morning Women’s Panel was moderated by Dr. Kideste Yusef,  

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of Center for Law and Social Justice, Bethune-Cookman University.  This  powerful panel session included women who had served in the carceral system: Monica Cooper, Maryland Justice Project, DeAnna Hoskins, Just Leadership USA, Jessie Mabrey, Dr. Rose Parker, Saving Our Women International, Kemba Smith-Pradia, Kemba Smith Foundation and Malika Kidd, Chopping for Change - Workforce Development. Their stories are testimonials of family, courage, determination, and the unwavering human spirit.  These powerful women serve as beacons of hope for individuals grappling with their own struggles, showing them that transformation is not only possible but achievable. 

 

In the afternoon, conference attendees were able to join small group discussions such as: De-Privatizing Faith & Creative Inclusive Community Activism, The Pedagogy of Prison, TIS Foundation Innovation Campus, DMV Transitional Housing Models, 400 Years: Confronting Hard History, Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline and the Juvenile Restoration Act, Technology: Therapy, Access & Advocacy,and A Look At The History of Mass Incarceration By The Numbers. These sessions were followed by The Fifty Forward Awards Lunch including men and women who are actively engaged in rebuilding bonds and supporting persons incarcerated and returning citizens.


Tony Lewis, Jr. Tony Lewis, Sr. Family Incarceration
The Lewis Family presented on the impacts of incarceration on families.

The Final Afternoon Session ended on a very high note reflecting the impact of family in the carceral system. “Breaking the Generation Curse” panel was moderated by Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad who introduced Mr. Tony Lewis Jr, his wife, Jessica and their two beautiful girls, Isabella and Sophie, and Mr. Tony Lewis, Sr.


The Lewis family represented the epitome of what it means for families to stay connected at all costs. At the tender age of 9, Tony Lewis Jr was separated from his father for a nonviolent drug offense. After serving more than three decades of incarceration Tony Lewis Sr was released as a direct result of his son raising awareness about mass incarceration. The Lewis family and the young children shared the challenges of support, visitation, letter writing, phone calls and the final joy of Dad, (pop-pop’s) release. 


Bonus Content: View the 360º video of “A Conversation with The Lewis Family” from the NRCC conference.


Jessica Snow Sylvia Bullock Flikshop
Flikshop Relationships Manager, Sylvia Bullock, and VPO Jessica Snow.

We are all left feeling inspired by this family that continues building a community where every individual, regardless of their past, can thrive and flourish within the embrace of their loved ones. With two action-packed days at the conference, our team agreed that there could be no better way to kick off Second Chance Month than at the 4th annual National Returning Citizens Conference. We left empowered and invigorated to continue our work unceasingly, because while there is still so much work to be done, we are reassured that we are not doing it alone.

 


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