Chermaine Black

(Fortune Society Staff)

My name is Chermaine Black and I am a formally incarcerated mother of three. I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY. I lived in Flatbush with my mother and two younger sisters, however I grew up all over Brooklyn. What I mean by that is I spent most of my childhood traveling from different family member’s homes within Brooklyn. From the age of five I use to leave home and go to Crown Heights, Bedstuy, Park Slope, East NY, and even Coney Island. When I first started “wandering” I would be brought home by the police because I was so young with no one with me. I remember arriving at my Aunts house in Crown Heights and being told my aunt went to Coney Island beach. I wanted to go too so I got on the D train to go to the beach and searched until I found them; I was about six or seven.

At about the age of 19 I my mother passed away. I was then incarcerated for making a poor decision. Upon my release in 1995 I decided to go back to school. I started going to the college in New Rochelle. However, I did not stay on track and ended up getting arrested once again in 1999 and being sentence to five to ten years. I was offered work release in 2003, which I took. At this point in my life I was tired of being tired. So while on work release I stayed with my aunt five days and had to go back to the prison two days a week. After twelve months I was released from work release. At this point I had about six years left on parole.

After being discharged from work release I worked in a family restaurant but decided after six months it was not for me. I learned about a program called the Hope program located in downtown Brooklyn. After about two months I was offered an internship with The Fortune Society, an agency focused on supporting formally incarcerated people. I completed the internship in 2004 and was offered a part-time position as a follow up worker.  Six months later I was hired full time and a year later I got promoted to counselor of one of our programs called Street Smart. This program is about teaching young adults about HIV, STD/I, Hepatitis and how to make healthy decisions. With the support of the Fortune Family, the Street Smart program was very successful and I was able to reach many young people – which is my passion.  So when the program was at its end I was very sad. However, the contract was renewed and I was offered a position as program coordinator. I did that for a few months then moved to group facilitator / case manager for the program. After about a year and a half I took another position working in the Education department as a counselor for a program called Justice Scholars ( It’s basically a GED program for youth between the ages of 17 and 24 with attached opportunities. The program has been very successful. Since we started we have supported approximately 10 -12 participants in obtaining a GED and other participants have obtained employment or gone on to college. 

Because I love working with the young people I try to get involved in a lot of projects at the agency. That is how I became a part of the TEMPEST! Lear came to Fortune Society and introduced the idea of putting on play. We formed a committee, came up with different ideas, and introduced them to other staff and participants. One of the things we thought about doing was acting workshops. So far there have been 3 series and I participated in the first series. As I said, I try to be involved with everything – primarily because I want the young people at fortune to get involved. I have a good rapport with a lot of the young people, so it’s good if they see me doing it, as I believe this will make them want to do it too. I try to make every rehearsal but it becomes difficult sometimes because I live in PA. When I did the first rehearsal I was so excited I put on FACEBOOK: “I’m in a play! I’m in a play! We have 20 rehearsals and this is the first one!” I actually have a lot of friends and family members that want to come.

Throughout my nine years with The Fortune Society, I have gone from Follow up worker to counselor with some other experiences in between. I am now certified to train other staff on Youth Development and Street Smart. I have a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts – with my area of interest psychology, and I have plans to continue on to my masters and hopefully run my own program for youth. I live in PA where I own a home and all of my children are either in school, working or doing both.  I now get the chance to be in a play in Central Park – it doesn’t get any better than that!


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Founded by Joseph Papp as the Shakespeare Workshop and now one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions, The Public is an American theater in which all of the country’s voices, rhythms, and cultures converge.
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