Setting His Sights on Education, and a New Life

Khalil Cumberbatch. Photo credit: Matt Curtis, VOCAL-NY

When Khalil Cumberbatch was released from prison in 2008, he had two major goals. “I did not want to go back to prison; that’s not a place I want to be,” he said. “My second commitment was to rebuild a legacy for myself.”

With education a key part of his reentry plan, Khalil set his sights on a SUNY college, determined to continue the coursework he had begun while in prison. But the school's requirement that he submit his criminal records in order to apply stopped him cold. “I didn’t know anything about that process,” he says. That’s when he contacted CSS.

Khalil met with Carlos Jesse of CSS’s Next Door Project, which helps people with conviction histories request, review and understand, and fix mistakes in their NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services rap sheets (and FBI rap sheets, if they have arrests from outside New York State).

“I was nervous, and still skeptical of institutions,” Khalil says. “But Carlos was extremely welcoming, open and helpful. He walked me though the entire process of obtaining and understanding my criminal records, and never ridiculed me for what I did not know. With his help I was able to obtain all the necessary records and complete my application to college, and, later, to graduate school.”  In 2014 Khalil received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from CUNY Lehman College.

Khalil also applied for and received a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities. In addition to assisting with criminal records, Next Door Project counselors can help individuals apply for these documents, as well as Certificates of Relief from Disabilities, both of which provide presumptive evidence of rehabilitation and help individuals overcome criminal records-based barriers to employment and licensure.

"CSS’s help had a snowball effect in my life," says Khalil. "Access to my criminal records led to access to higher education—and that changed how I saw myself, my role in my family, and in society. Working with CSS was a key component of my empowerment, and that empowerment ultimately led me to become an activist.”

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Khalil A. Cumberbatch is a formerly incarcerated advocate who has worked on reentry issues in the New York City area since his release from prison in 2010. He is Manager of Communications and Training at JustLeadershipUSA, and the Founder and President of Kinetic Solutions. In 2014 Khalil received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from CUNY Lehman College where he was awarded the Urban Justice Award for his work with underserved and marginalized communities. In December 2014, Khalil was one of two people to receive an Executive Pardon from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to prevent his deportation from the United States.  He was also awarded a fellowship by the Communications Institute at the Opportunity Agenda, and received the Urban Leadership Award from Lehman College.  In addition to his position at JustLeadership USA, he is a lecturer at the Columbia School of Social Work.

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