Evan Bell finds it important to act as the voice for those who cannot speak up.
As a young shero, she has dedicated her time to starting a nonprofit called InTouch, an organization dedicated to connecting children and their incarcerated parents. She is a true inspiration to change makers all around the world.
Tell us more about your amazing non-profit InTouch. What is your mission?
Evan Bell: InTouch is a nonprofit initiative I founded with the mission to provide free transportation for children to visit their incarcerated parents. Right now, services are targeted at those in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, but as InTouch grows, I hope to serve children in cities across the nation.
What inspired your organization?
EB: I started down this road of seeking justice for children of incarcerated parents because I knew someone in high school whose father was incarcerated. I’m someone who has a very close relationship with both of my parents, so imagining having the basic right to have a relationship with them stripped away from me was devastating.
During high school, I began researching mass incarceration and its affect on families, which developed into a year-long research project where I discovered that one of the main problems affecting these children was lack of access to visit their parents in correctional facilities, either due to lack of time or lack of money on their caregivers’ part. I saw this as a real problem and was motivated to work toward solving it.
Why do you think this cause is important?
EB: This cause is important because there are almost two million children with an incarcerated parent in the United States. And do you know what they’re called? The forgotten population, because although huge in numbers, they’re not represented, and they’re not advocated for.
I believe it is ethically unjust for this “forgotten population” of children to be traumatized and alienated due to the actions of their parents. There is a lack of support given to these children due to the social stigma surrounding incarceration in our country. Through InTouch, I seek to educate others on the ethics of justice and care for children and families affected by incarceration.
What are some of the lessons you have learned through InTouch?
EB: I’ve learned a lot about the ethical implications of philanthropy and advocacy. I try to constantly think how we, as a society, can provide adequate support and compassion for incarcerated individuals and their families without appearing to condone the parent’s criminal behavior.
In addition to that, I constantly question the ways, outside of political engagement, that an individual can implement a solution that can make a significant impact on marginalized communities like the children of incarcerated parents. One of the most important lessons I strive constantly keep in mind is to share the stories of families affected by incarceration in an ethically responsible way.
Is there a single moment or story that sticks out to you throughout your work?
EB: I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with one young man, let’s call him John, who, at the age of 10, witnessed his father get arrested. In a fit of road rage, his dad shot a man during an argument, and in the blink of an eye, John went from having a father to having his parent whisked hundreds of miles away from him.
Because his dad was incarcerated hundreds of miles away, he only saw him a few times, on holidays, during the eight years he was in prison. John told me that to this day, he has trouble sleeping because of the trauma he experienced from watching the police arrest his father. He was so young he couldn’t even fully grasp what was going on. Stories like that make us realize that there are so many more victims to incarceration than just the incarcerated themselves.
You’re also working to start a new non-profit that would provide free portrait photography for low-income families. Tell us more about this and what inspired it.
EB: Photographs are one of the most powerful historical documentations and such a precious and timeless memento. As a photographer myself, I am often hired to capture people’s precious moments and life stages through portrait photography. However, anyone who has ever hired a photographer knows that it definitely isn’t cheap, and there are many costs that go into shooting, editing, and printing photos.
Through my Arts Entrepreneurship class, I conceptualized the idea to provide free family portrait photography for low-income families in Durham. Along with a team of two other students, we are currently in the process of establishing the organization. Through collaborating with local professional photographers, we seek to provide a significant product for deserving families whilst simultaneously providing promotion, skill enhancement, and exposure for local photographers.
You’ve partnered with a national non-profit, coached with the global nonprofit Girls on the Run, and you’re now working to start your second non-profit, so you have lots of experience with change making. What advice do you have for others who want to make an impact?
EB: Change comes about only through action. If you see a problem, take the necessary steps to help rectify or correct it. Oftentimes, facing a huge problem head-on can seem intimidating, but start small by identifying one area in which you can make a difference. It sounds cliché, but change truly starts at the grassroots level.
What continues to motivate you to make a difference?
EB: For me, it’s my faith. I want to go about doing good for people and helping mankind in any way possible.