Ex-convict uses 2nd act to inspire children to use theater, arts to push for change

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- A man who spent a huge chunk of his teenage years behind bars has found a new life outside of prison as the founder and leader of a theater group for young people.

Throughout his life as a teacher, activist and ex-convict, Jamal Joseph has been seeking the answers to one question.

"How does one transform pain through power?" he asked.

And in Harlem, he has made an impact starting a theater group by that name -- The IMPACT Repertory Theatre Performance Company.

"IMPACT teaches you how to be a better person and how to use the arts to change the community around you," managing director Dietrice A. Bolden said.

Their leader was a member of the Black Panthers at the age of 15 and a prisoner at Rikers Island by 16, followed by more than five years in Levenworth.

"There's this amazing quote by Malcolm X," Joseph said. "'The penitentiary has been the university for many a black man.'"

Behind bars, Joseph earned his GED and two college degrees while writing a play.

"When I came out of prison, I decided to use art and activism to promote social change and transformation," he said.

And it is a message made even more powerful by his experiences.

"We affectionately call him Uncle Jamal, because he really is like our uncle," IMPACT student Khadim Diop said. "He's a great support system."

His efforts have earned him respect and admiration.

"From Jamal, I've learned to keep moving forward and to never stop your grind," student Cheyanne Young said. "No matter what people say to you."

And that extends way beyond his community, most recently in San Francisco, where he picked up a Purpose Prize from a group called Encore in recognition of his second act.

"Using arts in a way that inspires kids to make a difference, not just when they're on stage, but when they're moving through the stage of life," he said.

The Purpose Prize is given to those who take on society's biggest challenges at a time of life when many others are thinking about retiring. And who better to win than Joseph, who is always thinking of new ways to give back to his community.

For more information on IMPACT, visit IMPACTrepTheatre.org/
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