When Alice Gaskin was 11 and growing up in Austin, she almost believed her uncle when he told her she would do nothing with her life but have a house full of children.
After Gaskin had two children between 16 and 18 and dropped out of high school, she started to wonder if her uncle was right – until a boyfriend laughed at her idea to go back to school.
“When my boyfriend responded with,‘Yeah right’ and told me it would never happen, I knew God had a plan for me other than having children,” Gaskin said. “It didn’t matter that I was off track because God had a plan.”
Gaskin shared her story with a crowd of more than 40 women attending the Dinner and Empowerment for Chosen Women of Destiny program earlier this month, telling the audience there would always be a way to step onto a different path, as she did when she went back to school to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
The dinner for women in transition, sponsored by Sistas of the Hood and Sankofa Community Outreach and Restoration, was the completion of the “U R Not Forgotten Project,” which started in September, when more than 25 local women visited 50 women serving long sentences at Dwight Correction Facility to let them know they still have a life to live.
“Tonight is about letting these ladies know that they are not forgotten,” said Linda Barker, the executive director of Sistas of the Hood. “We like to show our appreciation for the people we serve over the holidays and for them to know that they are not alone.”
Women from transitional housing, including group homes and treatment facilities, drank orange soda and were served simmering greens from a crock-pot along with a traditional holiday meal, before gift baskets were raffled off and speeches were given by retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl A. Starks and Shanika Finley, an aldermanic candidate for the 27th Ward.
The evening ended with a shopping trip through the backroom that was filled with racks of donated business clothes from Carson Pirie Scott to help with the women’s transition back to the workforce.
“We hope the ladies leave with an uplifting strategic plan tonight and with steps to make life better by any means necessary,” said Paula Daniels, director of Sankofa Community Outreach and Restoration. “We want the ladies to look up and fight for life.”
Finely told the women they would be among her top priority if elected Feb. 22 and that she would work to secure resources in the Austin community for women and men in transition. She’s one of six candidates running, including incumbent Ald. Emma Mitts.
“Funding for Sistas of the Hood is minute, we need funding first,” Finley said. “As alderman, I want to change our community by helping people with backgrounds, by offering seminars and fund-raising.”
Next year, the Sistas of the Hood plan to visit both men and women in prison, and hopes to host more events to support women in transition throughout the year.
“We have to let these sisters know that just because they made a mistake, it doesn’t mean life is over,” said Gaskin, who is now working toward a doctorate degree. “There is always redemption.”