Kim Godfrey Lovett: Starting Each Day With a Grateful Heart
Inspired by all the women who shared their stories with PbS in celebration of Women’s History Month, and to honor all women in juvenile justice, I share my answers to the questions we asked of them.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you are from, about your family, where you live.
I am the oldest of four children. I spent most of my formative years in a small town in New Jersey and in the greater Boston area. I graduated from my elementary school in New Jersey with the same 42 kids I’d gone to school with since first grade, and all except one looked like me. I remember being really mad when I was 12 years old and my parents told me we were moving to Massachusetts and I was going to attend an all-girls private high school. However, that move and that school is what ignited my passion for disadvantaged children. It also provided me with the expectation and experience of women as leaders.
Why did you start working in the juvenile justice field?
There were two boys I met at different times of my life who impacted me deeply. One of them I met during high school outside of Boston. In my junior year I took a class called “Urban Schools” that placed students in inner city Boston Public Schools as teachers’ aides. I was assigned to an elementary school in Dorchester ― the year was 1977 ― a couple of years into Boston’s plan to desegregate public school through a system of busing students. I didn’t expect to see bars on the school’s windows and to have to ring the bell for the school’s front door to be unlocked and let me in. I worked mostly with one 7- or 8-year-old African American boy, who slept a lot and ate everything I could give him. He came to school in winter with no coat; once he wasn’t really wearing what I would consider to be shoes. I read to him (as he napped) and we worked on some math problems. He didn’t say too much but every now and then he’d smile and I felt like I could help, even if only for a little bit. It sparked in me the desire to do more and use all the advantages I was given to help those less fortunate.
The second boy was a young man when I met him as a newspaper reporter. At age 22, he was again asking the court to release him from the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS), where he’d been since the age of 15. He had murdered his grandmother, mother and grandfather ― in that order ― over an eight-hour time period. He would have been sent to the adult system but for a green assistant district attorney. He had never been in trouble before and my research over the course of a year showed a traumatic childhood and pointed to a one-time desperate act with very little likelihood that he would repeat violent behavior. However, his case became a political football. The district attorney (still mad that he had “lost” the original case) argued that he was a dangerous criminal while DYS were saying he had been a model resident, made no trouble, wasn’t in fights, completed all programming and they had no reason to keep him any longer. That case is how I met my mentor Edward J. “Ned” Loughran, who was the DYS commissioner at the time. Ned and his staff were the only ones looking out for the young man’s best interests. Ned’s compassion and commitment to that young man planted the seed that shifted my passion from journalism to translating research into juvenile justice practice. I thought if we get information about what works into the hands of the people working day in and day out with the kids, the kids will be treated fairly, kindly and in helpful ― not harmful ― ways that set them up to be productive, purposeful adults. That was 1992 or so. In 1994, I was hired by Ned to help launch the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and the PbS project.
Describe a moment in your work that inspired, surprised, confronted or changed you.
There are so many. I’ll offer two.
Firstly, visiting facilities to film the winning PbS Barbara Allen-Hagen Award videos and seeing our mantra – “Treat all youths in custody like one of our own” – actually happening. Spending a day or two talking with everyone ― from the agency head to the youths and from sunrise to well after sunset ― hearing their stories, watching them laugh, feeling their pride for doing really good work and their gratitude for being recognized, was so inspiring. I left each visit knowing that we can, and do, treat young people like one of our own. Not everywhere and not always, but it is possible.
Secondly, volunteering at the Rhode Island Training School for a couple of years to teach yoga and enjoying many pleasant surprises: Boys like yoga and they are really very good at balancing, handstands and dramatic poses. I’ll never forget one young man telling the others: “Now open your arms and fly like a bird!” It was awesome. The girls weren’t as interested in moving around but really liked poses that made them feel good in and about their bodies and learning how to use their breath to calm down the “fight or flight” urge. It was sad to see some girls refuse to close their eyes for the final resting savasana pose ― they didn’t feel safe. I am convinced practices like yoga and meditation are among some of the few tools we can give young people in facilities that are truly transferable to their lives when they leave. Namaste!
Tell us about your role
My title is executive director but going on my 27th year, I’d describe my role as more about helping everybody achieve their highest potential, including my three kids, the kids in juvenile justice, our participants and partners and my wonderful team. I’ve held just about every title in the organization, even bookkeeper, which is pretty scary! But thanks to my mentor Ned and many of the amazing women who joined in this Women’s History Month celebration, I learned that it is not about being a boss or about me ― it’s about putting people first and helping them do their best, letting them fail and helping them get back up and nudging them to figure out who they want to be. We have a small team at PbS and when we’re all at our best, the sky is the limit!
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
I am very, very grateful to many, many people. I can’t think of just one. I miss my mentor, Ned. I really appreciated the women who joined PbS in celebrating Women’s History Month by sharing their stories and insights through their profiles and in the webinar and in some nice emails I’ve received. I would love to keep that conversation and support going in some sort of women’s circle.
What advice do you offer young women starting their careers?
Don Miguel Ruiz’s five agreements: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best and be skeptical but learn to listen.
What is your favorite quote?
Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”