Vivian Nixon says her dream of becoming a stage actress was crushed by her mother’s hurtful words: “You are not beautiful. You will never be an actress.” But today Vivian is a star in a very different role. After falling in with a bad crowd and spending several years in prison, she emerged stronger, with a new dream—the dream of giving women just released from prison a second act through education and jobs. Her amazing resilience in the face of personal setbacks gives hope to people of every age and circumstance that they, too, can make something of themselves and make a difference.
VIVIAN IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE COLLEGE AND COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP (CCF) , which was founded in 2000. Women who enroll in CCF’s programs come from New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County. CCF provides formerly incarcerated women with academic counseling, college level tutoring and mentoring, and programs in career development, financial literacy, community building, leadership development, artistic expression, and public policy and advocacy. More than 70 percent of CCF students are recovering from addiction; 75 percent are mothers; 50 percent are survivors of domestic abuse; 85 percent are women of color. Women participating in CCF’s program have a less than 2 percent recidivism rate, and 80 percent complete the program. More than 300 students have received tuition assistance and academic and financial counseling since CCF’s founding. Participants have been awarded 35 associate degrees, 105 bachelor’s degrees, 50 master’s degrees, and 1 doctoral degree. One hundred percent report increased earnings postgraduation. Many have won prestigious academic awards and honors, and many volunteer as mentors and tutors.
Vivian was chosen to be an Ascend Fellow for the Aspen Institute in 2012 and plans to launch a women’s health initiative in 2013 that will include developing a program that deals with the many issues children of incarcerated parents face. CCF is also collaborating with the Fortune
Society’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy on a project called Education from the Inside Out Coalition. The coalition works on improving public policies that limit access to higher education for people in prison or who have recently reentered society.