Madison ’25 is a helper. She believes in showing up for people in times of need. Growing up in underprivileged southeastern Kentucky, Madison was confronted by many systemic issues, from poverty to limited access to healthcare. Local options for addressing her specific personal challenges were limited, so she sought treatment in northern Ohio, away from the strong Appalachian women always surrounding her. Treatment and the consistent support of her grandmother, mother and other family members enabled her to overcome her struggles.
Madison witnessed the same community of women create a nurturing environment through their involvement in church, a place where people found refuge in times of need. She actively participated in building community support systems and understood their impact. Soon, she developed a passion for helping people, chipping away at societal ills like drug abuse and racial inequities.
She wants to incorporate her empathy and compassion into her academic and professional lives, and Berea College offered her the major that matched her vision: Peace and Social Justice Studies. At Berea, Madison took classes in community organizing and conflict mediation. She began working as a teaching assistant (TA) in the Peace and Social Justice Studies department to engage with the student community and get the hands-on, interpersonal experiences she values.
“My passion is social justice, and truly creating relationships with people,” Madison said. “And through working as a TA, I have created strong relationships with my professors. I’m also getting to work with my peers and help younger students adjust to Berea.”
Madison is especially interested in restorative justice, a modern approach to fighting crime by focusing on diminishing harm while holding the perpetrator accountable and shifting the focus away from punishment. At Berea, she was able to take advantage of Professor Rochelle Arms Almengor’s expertise in restorative justice and take a leadership position in classrooms.
This summer, Madison put her academic learning into practice at the Kentucky Center for Restorative Justice in Lexington during a three-month internship, which was funded by the College through donors.
She worked under the mentorship of the organization’s founder, Diana Queen, a pioneer in the field. They found common ground because of Queen’s eastern Kentucky roots. Much like the women of Madison’s childhood, Queen created a supportive environment for Madison and treated her as a partner, recognizing her knowledge in restorative justice.
“[The Kentucky Center for Restorative Justice] received a federal grant to go into northern Kentucky schools and teach restorative justice to the staff and implement a violence prevention program,” Madison said. “I was able to go into these trainings and teach these educators about restorative justice. I am only 20 years old, but the leadership skills I learned from working as a TA helped it all come together.”
During her internship, Madison did considerable research on nonprofit organizations, political figures and professionals who are interested in the field of restorative justice in Lexington. It was the initial stage of building a hub for individuals and organizations that can contribute toward restorative justice in the area.
“[Diana and I share] the idea to create an overarching hub within Lexington,” Madison said. “In Chicago, they have different locations for youth and their families to do restorative justice circles.
You can learn skills, like cooking, music, dance and athletics. The idea is that we will seed a collective group of people working in the community.”
She is eager to start a similar circle or hub in Berea during the rest of her time in college. Madison is the first in her family to go to college. She admits academia was unfamiliar territory for her, but the support of her professors enabled her to thrive in the new environment.
Last summer, she studied abroad in western Europe as part of the Berea International Summer Term. She is planning on studying in Latin America to improve her Spanish skills and discover the ways in which indigenous communities practice restorative justice. Madison hopes to use the knowledge she gathers from across the world to improve the criminal justice system in Kentucky.
Madison has gained thorough insight into the needs of Appalachia and Kentucky when it comes to social justice. She is confident she can go back to her home communities in a professional capacity to stimulate largescale social changes and help people in need.