Women’s Forum of New York Recognizes Jennifer Flores ’20 For Her Courage to Fight for a Fairer Criminal Justice System

Women’s Forum of New York Recognizes Jennifer Flores ’20 For Her Courage to Fight for a Fairer Criminal Justice System

Women’s Forum of New York Recognizes Jennifer Flores ’20 For Her Courage to Fight for a Fairer Criminal Justice System

Being a non-traditional college student can come with a lot of obstacles, from juggling parenting and homework, to getting re-accustomed to a classroom and campus setting. But, when it comes to obtaining their education, the five non-traditional John Jay students who recently won the 2019 Women’s Forum Education Fund Award, aren’t letting anything stand in their way. Rose-Marie Crystal, Jennifer Flores, Nancy Graham, Gabriela Pelaez-Benitez, and Humanchia Serieux, all exemplify the belief that when it comes to educational dreams, there is no “expiration date.” The Women’s Forum of New York created the award specifically to address the financial needs of women over 35, an underserved population, who are on the path towards completing their bachelor’s degrees. In this series, we spoke to some of the recipients to learn more about their journey to John Jay, their hopes for the future, and their message to other non-traditional students considering college. The next student we’re featuring is Jennifer Flores ’20, a Forensic Psychology major and mother, who uses her voice to advocate for equality in the criminal justice system.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a new mom to a one year old and I returned to John Jay in the fall of 2017 to complete my degree after many years of taking time off. I currently work as a compliance officer for a substance abuse facility, in midtown Manhattan. I’ve been doing this work for 10 years and I’m ready to take the next step. Since 2017, I’ve been volunteering at the Justice League NYC, which was designed to help end child incarceration and also eliminate racial inequities in the criminal justice system. Carmen Perez who is one of the co-founders of the Women’s March, runs the Justice League NYC.

What draws you to advocacy work?
I am the daughter of a single mother who was formerly criminal justice involved. I spent every single weekend of my childhood going to visit her in prison. I saw the impact of shadow incarceration. And, I think that’s something that we don’t really talk about. We talk about the person who is incarcerated, but we don’t talk about the impact that it has on a family and children. And so, I was always really attracted to doing healing work and I also love the legal system. I use this as motivation to advocate for other people, especially for those who are forgotten.

“I was so successful at my job that I even tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to go back to school. But I love school, and I decided that I need to go back, so here I am.” — Jennifer Flores

You mentioned that you took some time off from College. Can you tell us why that happened?
I started at John Jay in the fall of 2000 and then I took several years off. My mom put me out on the street. Because of that, I was working a full-time job, had my own apartment, and I was also going to school full-time. But working and going to school is really hard, and at the time, I just couldn’t manage the two. So, I decided to withdraw from school. I was very disappointed, but I had to take care of myself. I withdrew from school, worked full-time, and I was so successful at my job that I even tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to go back to school. But I love school, and I decided that I need to go back, so here I am.

You’re a recipient of the 2019 Woman's Forum Education Fund award. What does this mean to you?
It’s so hard to even express how excited I was to hear that I received this award. Professor Angela Crossman, from the Psychology Department, was the one who told me about the award. It was in an email that she had sent us, and when I saw it, I immediately asked professors for recommendations and applied. I remember that I would check the website all the time to see if there was any news about it. Then one day, I went online and saw my name on the screen. I was so excited. I really appreciate the Woman’s Education Fund and I love the fact that the award is unrestricted, which means the funds can be used for anything. There are not enough awards like this one that recognizes those real life basic necessities.

“I really appreciate the Woman's Education Fund and I love the fact that the award is unrestricted, which means the funds can be used for anything. There are not enough awards like this one that recognizes those real life basic necessities.” —Jennifer Flores

How is this award going to help you?
The award money will help me pay for my fall and spring tuition. I’m actually attending school next semester full-time, and will be graduating this upcoming spring. The money is also going to help pay for the childcare I have for my daughter, Journee Amada. It’s just my fiancé and I who take care of her. My mother lives in Texas and his family is in Ohio. We don’t have help to take care of our daughter, so we have to pay someone to watch her when we are working, or when I’m in school. And so, the funds will allow me to be able to do that.

Jennifer embracing her daughter, Journee Amada
Flores embracing her daughter, Journee Amada

How do you balance schoolwork, motherhood, and a job?
Last semester was difficult, but I pushed through. My daughter had sleep regression and that was hard because I do my schoolwork at night. If she’s experiencing sleep regression, I have to make sure she goes to sleep then stay up until like two o'clock in the morning so I can complete my schoolwork. Something that keeps me balanced is being organized. I think I have really great foresight and I plan a lot of things out.

“Having my daughter has been one of my greatest gifts because she holds me accountable. She shows me that I'm living for someone else and teaches me that I have a responsibility to create a better path for her.” —Jennifer Flores

What keeps you motivated?
My daughter keeps me motivated. Having my daughter has been one of my greatest gifts because she holds me accountable. She shows me that I’m living for someone else, and teaches me that I have a responsibility to create a better path for her.

This award is given to women 35 and older who are pursuing a college degree. What has inspired you to go back to school and pursue a degree?
After I earn my bachelor’s degree, I want to go to law school. I want to go to law school because it’s important for us, especially those in black and Latinx communities, to understand our rights and the law. This knowledge will help inform any work that I do in terms of criminal justice. I also wanted to get this degree because the word completion is a big thing in my life and I feel incomplete for not having finished college. I’m someone who advocates for integrity and that means completing things. And for me, personally, that means getting this degree.

“I want to go to law school because it’s important for us, especially those in black and Latinx communities, to understand our rights and the law.”—Jennifer Flores

Why is it important for women to get an education, regardless of their age?
I think it's important for several reasons. I mean, outside of getting to check off a box on an application, an education is something that no one can take away from you. It’s like, this is mine, I’ve earned this, and it’s a reflection of the hard work that you do. For women in general, we have to remember that if you have a dream, go after it regardless of how old you are. I had a co-worker who went back to college at 62 years old, and she’s now 82 years old and still does therapy with clients. When you see someone like that, it gives you encouragement and you want to be like her, unafraid to pursue what you want.

What advice would you give to others, who may think that college is out of their reach?
I would tell them to stop self-sabotaging themselves. I think too often the world sends us messages as women, and as moms, that makes us think pursuing a higher education degree is impossible. I’m not going to lie, being a mom and going to school is challenging, but you have to believe in yourself. And remember, your life doesn’t have to stop, it may change, and you have to strategize and look at things differently, but it’s all possible.

What do you hope your daughter learns from your journey?
I hope that my daughter learns that it’s okay to make mistakes and start over. I hope that she also feels limitless. I want my daughter to know that regardless of age, class, or ethnic background, that everything is possible. Even under the toughest of circumstances, she needs to know that she can push through and make things happen.

“I want my daughter to know that regardless of age, class, or ethnic background, that everything is possible.” —Jennifer Flores

Finish this sentence for me: Without John Jay…
Without John Jay, I would feel like an anomaly. With the diverse demographic at the College, I feel connected to my community, to my passion for helping others and making an impact in the world. John Jay has given me this space, and a community of people who are always ready to advocate for change.