Q & A with Legacy Training Inc.
Featuring Lynne Chambers, executive director; Ammiel Russell, program coordinator; and Kyonte Holder, program coordinator, Stephanie Fisher, board member
Legacy Training, Inc.
Location: Grand Chain, Illinois
In this Illinois Humanities Spotlight, the team at Legacy Training Inc. share their thoughts on what a just future looks like, and how the humanities help to bring that future into focus.
Founded in 2009, Legacy Training, Inc. is committed to promoting health and expanding the arts in underserved communities. It is located in Grand Chain, Illinois, one hour south of Carbondale and just 20 minutes from Kentucky. With an Envisioning Justice grant, they hosted a virtual symposium for incarcerated citizens and the community at large in collaboration with Shawnee Community College, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and Restore Justice.
Q&A with Legacy Training, Inc. Staff & Board
Lynne Chambers, executive director | Ammiel Russell, program coordinator | Kyonte Holder, program coordinator
Q: With regards to the criminal legal system, when you imagine a just future, what does it look like?
Lynne Chambers: Just a bit first on the background of Legacy Training. Legacy was a vision of my then husband Robert Anthony Ketchens, an amazing visual artist committed to social justice. We incorporated in 2009 with the vision of alleviating poverty of the mind, body, and spirit. It is a broad vision, celebrating human dignity, and concern for all people, and based on the knowledge that minority and underserved communities need to come in and be part of the solutions. So the vision is to promote health and expand the arts in underserved communities. My background was in social work in Cairo, Illinois, and then self-employment. But these two amazing people (Ammiel Russell and Kyonte Holder) are an important part of what we want to do with Legacy; to impart in tomorrow’s young leaders, so they do the work of Legacy and to make the planet better.
And to answer the question, a just world in my humble view is where we don’t live in boxes but in possibilities.
Ammiel Russell: For me, it looks like restorative justice, and the implementation of that across the board. And the philosophy that all people are capable of change, and are worthy, with the opportunity and support to do so.
Kyonte Holder: I agree with all that’s been said. As far as offenders, we need better rehabilitation working with these offenders, giving them a second chance and giving them the opportunity to make a difference and to change this world, and to show that they can. And even before crime, we need to work on avoiding crime altogether. We also need to support victims of crime; a lot of people don’t think about that. People are mentally affected, and families can be torn apart. These are three things we should take into consideration.
Lynne Chambers: Restorative Justice encompasses all the things just described.
Q: How do you see harnessing the arts and humanities as important strategies in working toward that future?
Lynne Chambers: One of my favorite quotes, which is attributed to Maya Angelou, and is simple and powerful, is that “When we know better, we do better.” I know in my life education has been my salvation. I had every odd against me to be a failure. And any success I’ve achieved has been due to learning, whether formal education or listening to my very wise mother. And that’s the power of the humanities – the human connections not just from books and the academy, but listening to one another. The humanities are all about that – building genuine community. What would we be without the arts and the expression and creativity they bring to any organization and to our quality of life. We can also talk about economic development, and generally speaking the power the arts bring. They inspire us to think broadly, and deeply, about any issue we are thinking about. I have been blessed working with the arts since 1997; we had an arts group in Sandusky, Illinois, a town of about 300 people. And Ammiel was part of Grand Chain poets; Grand Chain has a population of 250.
Ammiel Russell: I find that art allows us – and it takes so many different forms – to express ourselves. I got involved with Legacy through the Grand Chain poets. We had Samuel Hawkins as artist in residence; he showed us in workshops how to express yourself on paper. It was one of my favorite experiences ever. It was a small group. The connections we made, and how we surprised each other; in a way you go into that not expecting that much out of people. And it was just an educational experience in writing, grammar, mechanics, and also about the world and people, and that remains kind of an ongoing theme in a lot of the projects we do. I love that about the arts and humanities and being plugged into that aspect of life.
Kyonte Holder: I believe that harnessing the arts and humanities can help to change the world, just as Legacy is doing. Gaining a deeper understanding can lay the groundwork for a deeper civic life. An example of how Legacy is impacting minority groups is an upcoming trip we are taking to the Legacy Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, for the lynching exhibit at the museum. This is a great example of how the arts and humanities play a role. It will help prepare us to think critically, and to perform those acts of creativity, and draw witness to us and others.
Q: Backing up for a moment, how did you arrive at doing what you do?
Lynne Chambers: Adding to what Kyonte mentioned about the trip to Alabama – I had no idea I’d want to bring Healing Illinois to partner with the Equal Justice Initiative. I simply love Bryan Stevenson, I bought copies of “Just Mercy” and gave it to a judge, a state representative, and other attorneys. That book impacted my life and made me want to right the wrongs in criminal justice. When I became exposed to that, I had the opportunity to go to the museum with a group in Missouri in October. I had to bring my southern Illinois family into that mission!
Ammiel Russell: I mentioned the Grand Chain Poets, and that’s how I got involved with Legacy. Part of the experience with the Grand Chain Poets was connecting with the people involved, which included Lynne. I knew her – she’s been friends with my parents a long time. But we had never worked together. We clicked, and she invited me to come on as an administrative assistant. She has taught me so much about so many things. My passion for people, for connection, and building community; my faith in our small and underserved community was not that strong prior to Legacy. There is simply not a lot here in terms of opportunity, etc.; from a young age I wanted to get out. My faith has been restored, that this community can be restored to what it once was and something even better.
Lynne Chambers: I’ve never heard you say that.
Kyonte Holder: I believe serving others is a passion, for me, as it should be for everyone. It is interesting how Lynne and I met. I was at a volleyball game, working the front desk. She came across, and we spoke, and it was like an immediate connection you could say. The conversation was really good. She was late to a meeting and gave me her contact information. We messaged each other back and forth, but nothing about work. Then she gave me an opportunity to join Legacy. So, I took a chance, and I’m grateful for it. It is because of God and through God that me and Lynne were able to connect. This has been a desire and passion of mine to work on this. I wanted to be a Political Science major. This was my blessing in disguise.
Q: Finally, what is the most important thing people should know about your work?
Stephanie Fisher: I think the most important thing to know is that for our area here, is that we do it. Not just talk about it. Lynne finds an opportunity, gets us all corralled, puts a fire under us, and we do it. There has been a lot of rhetoric over the past 20 years. I’ve been a participant in truly memorable projects because we carry through.
Ammiel Russell: A lot is promised here, to us in southern Illinois. And most of it doesn’t come to fruition. I agree with Stephanie, we are the doers.
Lynne Chambers: This may be hard to hear, but we do have poverty pimps in our community. People who write grants, sell programs. That was one frustration for me, in walking away from the social services world. Our values are leadership, innovation, and excellence. We say we’re going to do it and we do it. We do things no one else is doing. We are innovators, and I’m really proud of that about us.
Kyonte Holder: I agree with Lynne. Being new to Legacy, I can vouch for everything everyone has said. As the new guy, I’ve learned how the hospitality that we have, and the passion for the work, and for everyone involved in the work – and I have to say that speaks to me – how family oriented everything is. That’s what’s important to me – the truth behind it I can see is how genuine everyone is here and how they want to make an impact.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Lynne Chambers: I want to say how grateful we are to be part of the Illinois Humanities family of grantees. We are amazing at making miracles with small amounts of money. You’d be amazed to see what we do with a small budget. We are people driven and it’s not about the money. I never take our funders for granted. We want to be good stewards of the resources. The symposium project was amazing. We planted seeds with those men that would not have been; it was a real conversation with the IDOC team members right there with families, etc. So, thank you!
Ammiel Russell: I second the thanks that Lynne gave. We’re over the moon to be connected with you guys. You’ve helped us to carry out projects we wouldn’t have been able to do. And we’re more connected to individuals.
Lynne Chambers: We’re going to work with Children’s Best Interests. We’re going to host forums with them, in the early summer. We’re continuing to work with Restore Justice. And we’re talking with people who are in prison because of the accountability theory. That’s amazing.
Kyonte Holder: I’m also grateful to be part of Legacy, and for you guys, and how you’ve helped us to impact the world and make change.
Lynne Chambers: Also, Ammiel did the facilitation training, and a Legacy board member Connie Hunt did the fundraising workshop. So, we have seen how much of a value add that has been. And we look forward to being part of the June conference!
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (adapted for young adults) by Bryan Stevenson
- “Just Mercy” 2019 film with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx
The Illinois Humanities Grantee Spotlight
Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Envisioning Justice program partners and other grantee partners through our “Grantee Spotlight.” This shines a light on our grantee partner’s work, offering details about the organization and the funded project, as well as a Q&A with a team member at the organization.
About Envisioning Justice
Envisioning Justice leverages the arts and humanities to envision alternatives to the enduring injustice of mass incarceration. This Illinois Humanities initiative works with communities and people impacted by mass incarceration to spark conversations and illuminate community-based strategies that address our racist and unjust criminal legal system.
About Illinois Humanities
Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds.