Listen: From Swarthmore to the Streets

This spring, acclaimed criminologist David Kennedy '80 returned to Swarthmore for a day's worth of events, including a meeting with community leaders in Chester, Pa., organized by Cynthia Jetter '74, director of community partnerships at the College's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and a visit to a class taught by Associate Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves '88 in SCI Chester. He also conducted a seminar at the Lang Center for students who had studied his work in their classes. His visit culminated in a public talk attended by nearly 100 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. Prior to his visit, Kennedy spoke with David Sterngold '12 about his Swarthmore experience.

Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, spends much of his time meeting with communities around the country on how to effectively address gun violence. He is also the author, among other titles, of the wellreceived memoir, Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (2011). Here, he reflects on his visit, his first since receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the College last year.

This return to the College was really a profound gift, to be honest. My time at Swarthmore as a student was very intense, as an intellectual experience and in terms of very powerful friendships. When I left, and a few years later when the last of the students I knew had also gone, I had real trouble having a relationship with the College that made any sense to me. When I went back, which I did several times, I felt extremely out of place - strongly connected, but to something that wasn't really there any longer. I was a tourist, which I didn't like at all, and I stopped visiting, which was the lesser of two evils but also something I didn't much like.

Being able to return now with a different, but genuine, role to play was simply fantastic. I had a wonderful time engaging with faculty and students, who were of course as sharp and serious as they always are. I spent a good deal of my time in Chester, with a community antiviolence group with which the College is heavily involved, and with Keith Reeves' Inside/Out group at the state prison there. I write in Don't Shoot that I'm ashamed, looking back that, while I was at Swarthmore, I was so little aware of what was going on in Chester. It's the kind of community that is now the focus of my work, so being involved in even a small way was very good. 

Keith's class was terrific. As is often the case with such classes, the inmates had the most to offer and the most salient insights into the issues being addressed, and the relationship and intellectual exchange with the Swarthmore contingent was clearly strong and very important to both sides. I'm really proud of the College for doing the heavy lifting necessary to put one of these programs together. Some of the Swarthmore students have been captured, in a very  personal and powerful way, buy these issues, as I was after I'd left school, and I've been in touch with several of them since and will do everything I can to help them along.

Then I gave my talk that evening, which turned into more of a personal reminiscence than I'd intended, but it seemed fitting and I think it worked. I particularly enjoyed hanging out with the students afterward, and having Tyrone Werts, who I'd known and admired as a lifer at Graterford Prison outside Philadelphia before his sentence was commuted, show up and be part of it all.  It brought all the threads together.

I really love being, again, part of  the Swarthmore community, and will look for more opportunities to keep this going.