From Prison to Pomp and Circumstance

By Lenore Skenazy

June 27, 2019 3 min read

Through the lens of Hunter College, we've been taking a look at some of the extraordinary students who just graduated college. Hunter College is a public university in New York City and one of the first colleges in America not just to admit women but to admit them without regard to race or religion. This week, we focus on rebirth — and Beverly Emers.

Beverly is an older student. She grew up in the South Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation, and dropped out of school in 9th grade. Drugs became her world — using and selling them. Even though she kept promising herself she'd stop, she found herself in and out of prison for years and ended up doing nine stints at Rikers, New York's notorious corrections complex.

Every time she got out, it was harder and harder to turn her life around. But when her son, Jabari, was born 16 years ago, Beverly vowed to change.

To give her boy a better life, she dedicated herself to finding out what the best mothers in New York did, and she gave that to Jabari. She took him to museums and bookstores and exposed him to all the city had to offer. And when Jabari started struggling in grade school, Beverly went to his teachers to help get him back on track. But the teachers saw a spark in her, too, and pushed her to succeed.

With their encouragement, something clicked. Beverly got her GED — her high school equivalency degree — and went on to Bronx Community College. There she won a scholarship named for Kalief Browder, the young man who committed suicide after spending three years in Rikers on charges of stealing a backpack. The scholarship is given to a person changing their life and the lives of others, post-incarceration.

By the time she got to Hunter, Beverly was on fire to help anyone who'd been through the kind of hard times she'd had. She joined the university senate and became its vice chair. She volunteered at a Bronx art gallery to bring art to her community. Most of all, she started encouraging her neighbors to get their GEDs, too, and apply to college. She became the neighborhood role model. Folks on the street would wave: "Hey, Beverly! Are you off to school?" Even her local deli owner was asking her about commencement.

And so it was last month that, at age 49, Beverly Emers graduated with a bachelors degree in sociology and a very proud son whose own journey jump-started hers. Now, she plans to go on to get her master's degree and care for the future by helping her South Bronx neighbors achieve better lives.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: McElspeth at Pixabay

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