Hope for the New Year: Community Justice

Please read my newest on Truthout: Lifting Up Community Voices to Tackle Injustice. It begins:

Community Justic
“Lillie A. Estes calls herself a “community strategist.” Others see her as a force of nature. She has lived in Richmond, Virginia, for 35 years, where she builds and develops innovative alliances between organizations and people. Estes is well-known and respected both in the public housing project where she lives and by many public officials in Richmond. She has been a pioneer in race reconciliation work in the heart of the Confederacy, and is on what she calls a “spiritual journey” to improve her community. This began with her first efforts as a high school student in Newport News, Virginia, and as an active member of the NAACP Youth Council.

In an interview, Estes told Truthout the question she asks in all of her work: “How do you build a platform that allows the adversely impacted community members to step into their power?”

At a time when many are feeling defeated as they try to fight against a racist and non-responsive government, many justice advocates around the country are asking this critical question. They recognize that nothing less than a total sea change in perspective will work: In order to create new policies and enhance community life, community justice organizers must turn to those most impacted. They must seek out community voices to truly improve their lives and the well-being of their communities.” MORE

Mass. ACTION ALERT: Call Your Governor Councillor Now

 In October, Governor Charlie Baker nominated Colette Santa to fill the vacant seat on the Parole Board. The seat has been open since Ina Howard Hogan became a judge in August, 2016. While Santa, chief of transitional services for the Parole Board, has “two decades of experience in Corrections,”  the Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS) has long advocated for more diversity of experience on the Board.

 Action Needed Now
On Wednesday, December 6, supporters of Colette Santa testified before the Governor’s Council who must approve the Governor’s nomination in order for Santa to be appointed. I testiified against her nomination. Below is my complete testimony which emphasizes why we must speak out for a Board that strives for diversity of training and experience so that the Board is able to more appropriately assess the candidates who come before them, and thus improve our paroling rates, and add to public safety,  

Here is what you can say to your councillor:

Our present Parole Board has five members who have worked in law enforcement, parole, as attorneys, or in corrections, with only one member, Dr. Charlene Bonner, having both experience and training in psychology.  We have no Parole Board members with experience and training in psychiatry, sociology or social work. I oppose Santa’s nomination precisely because in order to fairly judge the potential parolees who come before them, the Board needs more balance in their training and experience. Without more addiction and mental illness specialists, the Parole Board suffers in both scrutinizing and understanding those who come before them. 

Call Before Wednesday, December 13, when the Governor’s Council will vote on Santa’s nomination.


Find your Governor’s Councillor here https://www.mass.gov/service-details/councillors

Why Mothers for Justice and Equality Matters

From the Mothers for Justice and Equality website, from Day 1 Conference, Oct. 19, 2017

Mothers for Justice and Equality (MJE) held its national conference on October 19th and 20th, and true to its mission, shared the voices and visions of those across the country who came to Boston with messages about the fight against violence.

The video above gives a short summary of the conference and highlights some of the stupendous work of President Monalisa Smith, as well as many other supporters and members of MJE.

According to the MJE website, the organization was founded by mothers who lost children to community violence. What was stressed throughout the conference is that the pain of a mother who has lost a child to death or prison is palatable, tragic, relentless. Such violence is “not okay” and “not acceptable in any child’s life.” To help those left behind who deal with ongoing loss, MJE developed the “You Matter: Personal Leadership Training” in 2013. In 2014, MJE began a Youth Peer Leadership program, and a year later, a Workforce Readiness Initiative. In 2015, they expanded to work with prisoners inside and help those formerly incarcerated men and women coming back to their communities.

 “When my son died, a part of me died,” a woman said in a short video that kicked off the conference, highlighting MJE’s work. Another woman who first dealt with trauma by drinking eventually found MJE, but not before wanting to destroying herself. “To most mothers, justice has never been about getting revenge,” she said.

Reverend Janie Dowdy-Dandridge talked of how she lost her grandson to street violence. “Everybody has a breaking point, ” she said, quoting the story of Rizpah, a mother of murdered sons from the Old Testament, a woman who was like many: “beat down by death, defeat, or discouragement.” But she found her way. Likewise, Victor Santana, who lost his brother in a tragic accident, saw how stress seeped into his daily life, and coped by developing a workshop on resilience. Robin David, from Tennessee, lost her son, and has since become a motivational speaker. “My goal is to help women learn to live in their truth,” she said.

While there were many panels and speakers that gave hope to those who had been victims of violence, there were a variety of participants, indicative of a variety of perspectives. One participant said that she attended because, “I need to learn how to hold on to my son.”  Boston Mayor Marty Walsh addressed the conference and spoke highly of MJE’s work, saying he had now established an Office of Returning Citizens, and is working on hiring more men and women returning home from prison. he said, “Kids need to feel they belong even if they are just coming out of jail.” 


An interesting panel included three young black men talking on race and justice from a youth perspective. When they were asked “What do you think of when you hear the term race and justice?” they gave a variety of answers. Cedric said he thought of young Black males losing their lives, which  “challenges me on a daily basis.” He added that the membership of the police force “doesn’t reflect us or our community.”

Corine asked “What is race and why is it called race?” He pointed out the irony of the word “race” as in running, used as a verb, and implying a “best,” i.e. “Race matters because we are running a race.” And “When I am just walking down my street, why aren’t police officers speaking to me? Would they, if I were white?”

Shaygun said “Race informs justice.” He clarified: “It may not be a definable term, but I know when it exists. I shouldn’t be in the streets demanding something that my grandmother demanded 50 years ago. Justice means resolving issues still plaguing us today.”

They all said that injustice is informed by simple things like busses not coming as frequently in Mattapan as in Brighton. Air pollution is worse in communities of color, they agreed. Cedric said that free time is toxic for him. If he is with friends who hang out on his street, he is constantly harassed. An example he gave was when police assumed that when he gave $3.00 to a friend for “munchies,” it was a drug transaction.Three Young Men at MJEPhoto by MJE 

The title of this conference was “Empowering Women to Action.” And MJE’s operating model, per their website, hinges on two key mechanisms: “1) Education empowers MJE members by providing the leadership tools they need to take action and make change; and 2) Engagement includes public actions and campaigns that challenge the normalization of violence, providing members with opportunities to act as catalysts for change at home and advocates for change in their community.”

This conference is a great tool to both educate and give participants a boost towards action.

US Parole Activists Aim to Overhaul a Failing System

“Prisoner” (Image Courtesy of Ade McOren-Campbell / Flickr

Hey folks, please s
ee my newest article at Truthout. Here’s how it begins:

“The United States has the shameful reputation of being the world’s largest jailer, and as the Prison Policy Initiative reported in March, 2017, 2.3 million people are currently locked up in prisons and jails. This mass incarceration continues in spite of the fact that a Brennan Center for Justice report shows that crime is down and rates remain near historic lows.

Furthermore, our punishment system extends beyond the prison walls and includes destructive parole policies. “Max Out,” a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts report, details that over the past three decades, those sent to prison have been serving longer sentences. They are less likely to earn parole, the opportunity to finish one’s sentence in the community. This occurs in spite of the fact that research shows that longer sentences do not make us safer and do not prevent people from returning to prison, even as they cost more.

But here’s the good news: Activists across the county are seeking remedies for people impacted by this failing parole system, and in some cases, changing the system itself.” more