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A New Era of Justice Seekers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau is the only program of its kind in the nation. The program works with qualified persons to help reduce recidivism and to encourage entrepreneurship and academic development through a 12-week training program, that is taught on the Texas Southern University (TSU) campus.

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By Jeffrey L. Boney, NNPA Newswire Political Analyst

Imagine spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime you never committed.

Even worse, imagine spending 12 of those years behind bars on death row.

That is the story of former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves, whose case garnered international attention after he was wrongfully convicted of multiple homicides in 1992. Graves was sentenced to the death penalty.

Graves’ sentence was overturned in 2006. Then, after having to deal with countless legal loopholes and roadblocks, he was forced to fight and wait another four years in order to be fully exonerated and released from prison in 2010 after 18 ½ long years.

Sadly, stories of false imprisonment and wrongful conviction have impacted countless African Americans for decades — from having to deal with the controversial and inhumane convict-leasing system, to flawed public policy that disproportionately impacts African Americans.

Graves’ case serves as but one example of the complex nuances that make up the America’s controversial criminal justice system.

In 2017, Netflix released a documentary entitled “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” The film chronicles the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a young Black teenager who spent three years of his young life in pre-trial detention and solitary confinement on New York’s Riker’s Island, without ever being convicted of a crime.

Despite denying the charges, Browder was held because he was on probation for a prior incident. On top of that, because his parents could not afford the money for bail to get him out of jail. Half of Broder’s time in jail was spent in solitary confinement, until 2013 when he was released and all charges against him were dismissed.

Two years after being released, at the age of 22, Browder committed suicide outside of his mother’s home, which led to calls for criminal justice reform in New York.

Stories and incidents like these have prompted activists from across the globe to focus on ways to help bring about comprehensive and effective criminal justice reform in the United States, which is why Graves has chosen to work with the ACLU of Texas and Texas Southern University’s Urban Research and Resource Center (TSUURRC) to launch the Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speaker’s Bureau. Graves said this program was much needed across the country.

“I travel all across the country sharing my story and no matter where I go, I hear story after story about someone who has been impacted by the criminal justice system, whether it was them or someone close to them,” said Graves. “I felt like I had to do something to give these people a voice to share their stories, which I strongly believe will empower them to help bring about changes in the criminal justice system in America.”

The Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau is the only program of its kind in the nation. The program works with qualified persons to help reduce recidivism and to encourage entrepreneurship and academic development through a 12-week training program, that is taught on the Texas Southern University (TSU) campus.

The Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau allows formerly incarcerated people to be trained in professional public speaking and to serve as effective ambassadors related to criminal justice issues.

The program utilizes highly credentialed and experienced trainers who follow approved curriculum specific to the topic areas of criminal justice reform. The class sizes range from 5 to 10 students who are trained and prepared for speaking engagements around the country.

Students who successfully complete the program receive a certificate of achievement certifying their skills.

Selection for training is competitive. Applicants submit a 10-minute video for consideration and/or participate in a phone interview. Afterwards, candidates are then invited to a face-to-face interview.

Speakers are trained to be effective agents of change at the local, state and national levels. Speakers’ skills and time are highly valued. Trained speakers are fairly compensated consistent with speaking fees for other public policy professional engagements.

The TSU Urban Research and Resource Center (TSUURRC) chose to partner with the ACLU of Texas with a goal to help reduce mass incarceration by 50 percent. They hope to do this through researching the key drivers of incarceration and formulating policies aimed at impacting those drivers in a way that achieves the goal.

“This program trains the people who will be most influential in telling the real stories and showing the real faces of the criminal justice system,” said Marcia Johnson, TSU law professor and director of the TSU Urban Research and Resource Center. “The program helps to humanize the people within the system instead of seeing them as numbers. It ensures that we know that these are people not to be forgotten but helped to achieve goals that benefit themselves, their families and society.”

TSU students and faculty conduct research on the issue of criminal justice reform in order to educate communities and policy makers on issues like bail reform, sentencing reform and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

“When they tell their compelling stories, policy makers get to see the positive differences they could make,” Johnson added. “We do not have the luxury of marginalizing our fellow citizens. We must act humanely if we want to move our nation forward together.”

The Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau program is being administered by TSU journalism professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker, who developed the curriculum for the program.

The program focuses on a range of communication skills and training, which include:

  • Effective storytelling and general techniques for effective communication
  • Media training and how to effectively communicate with the news media and handle interviews in a variety of different formats
  • Delivery of impactful testimony and how to communicate before legislative bodies
  • How to communicate to the legal profession and engage with private attorneys, public defenders and the District Attorney’s offices
  • Public engagement and generating public support for criminal justice reform by speaking before a general audience

The first seven participants of the Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau recently graduated from the inaugural program and have begun practicing what they have learned by participating in speaking engagements around the country, with one of the first speaking opportunities taking place during the Texas Legislative Session this month.

Having paid their debt to society, previously incarcerated people need and deserve the opportunity to integrate back into civilian life and become positive contributors to society. This program will help these individuals hone and perfect their communication skills, thereby maximizing the impact of their personal testimonies and experiences can have on fostering change in the criminal justice system.

For more information on the Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau, please visit http://urrc.tsu.edu/areas-of-focus/criminal-justice-reform/tsu-anthony-graves-smart-justice-speakers-bureau/.

Jeffrey Boney is a political analyst for the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com and the associate editor for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is an award-winning journalist, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and founder and CEO of the Texas Business Alliance Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @realtalkjunkies.

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California Will Be First State to Break Down Black Employee Data by Ethnic Origin

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

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Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.
Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

When Gov. Gavin Newsom presented the annual May revision of his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, he announced that California will establish new demographic categories when collecting data pertaining to the ethnic origin of Black state employees.

Kamilah A. Moore, the chairperson of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, said the breakdown of data is “amazing news.”

“California will become the first state in the nation to disaggregate data for its Black population by ancestry/lineage,” Moore posted on her Twitter page on May 13. “This will assist the task force in our efforts to develop comprehensive reparations proposals for descendants.”

Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns. Newsom’s actions are similar to a bill authored by then-Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

In September 2016, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1726 into law that required the state Department of Public Health to separate demographic data it collects by ethnicity or ancestry for Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander groups.

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

The Assembly Committee on Appropriations is currently reviewing the bill.

AB 1604 promotes mobility for people of color in California’s civil services system and requires diversity on state boards and commissions. Newsom vetoed AB 105 last year, the legislative forerunner to AB 1604, which Holden also introduced.

Shortly after he was appointed chair of the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in January, Holden reintroduced the legislation as AB 1604.

Holden, a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said AB 1604 will give the Reparations Task Force more accurate data to utilize in its study and deliberations. The bill was passed by the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement on March 14.

In a written statement released in October last year, Newsom said he vetoed AB 105 because “the bill conflicts with existing constitutional requirements, labor, agreements, and current data collections efforts” but found disaggregation useful for dissecting data about California’s workforce.

As stated in his 2022-2023 May revision of the state budget, under the section titled “State Workforce Demographic Data Collection,” Newsom proposed the separation of Black employee data beginning with the state’s 2.5 million-plus employees.

The Department of Human Resources (CalHR) will work with the State Controller to establish new demographic categories for the collection of data pertaining to the ancestry or ethnic origin of African American employees.

The collection of this data, the document states, “continues CalHR’s duties to maintain statistical information necessary for the evaluation of equal employment opportunity and upward mobility within state civil service.”

In March, the nine-member Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans decided with a 5-4 vote that lineage will determine who will be eligible for reparations.

The May revision also includes $1.5 million in funding for the Department of Justice to continue supporting the work of the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans

Supporters of disaggregation say it will serve as a key tool for the task force as it enters its second year of studying slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans.

The state’s reparations task force will recommend what compensation should be and how it should be paid by July 2023.

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SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors. In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

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More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.
More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

This past weekend in the Inland Empire, a San Bernardino couple welcomed hundreds of African American high school graduates from the region for a joyous multi high school, Black-themed graduation celebration.

“Sometimes we have students doing magnificent things and nobody sees them,” said Keynasia Buffong, co-founder of Buffong Consultation Solutions, the company that organized the celebration honoring graduates from various high schools in the area.

Keynasia Buffong co-owns the firm with her husband Jonathan Buffong. The couple wants to expand the mass graduation event to all regions in the state.

“When you come into your community, we see you. We recognize you,” Kaynasia Buffong continued.

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors.

In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

Black Greek organizations attended the weekend-long event as well as the first Black valedictorian of Beaumont High School where African American students make up a little under 7% of the student population.

“We got a chance to give away $27,000 in scholarships,” said Keynasia.

Both Buffongs are educators and student advocates in California. They have been hosting the graduation event appreciating Black students for over 11 years.

But the Buffongs say celebrating success always comes with a reminder of the challenges Black students face.

According to the California Department of Education, at 72.5%, Black students had the lowest high school graduation rate among all other racial or ethnic groups at the end of the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Jonathan said one of their goals is to help graduates transition into the next stage of their academic life, whether that be a four-year university, community college, trade school, or employment.

“Sometimes they don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Keynasia. “There’s mentorship and sponsorship and we aim to have both.”

For the scholarship awards, the Buffongs are not just looking at grades but the full context of the graduates’ lives.

“Whether it’s COVID, deaths, family or health issues, disabilities, we’re looking for things to support them on so we can get them to the next level,” said Jonathan.

Outside of academic and career success, the Buffongs spoke about the importance of Black cultural exposure through education and traditional practices such as the Black national anthem and a libation ceremony.

The libation ceremony is performed by an elder in the community as a way to honor one’s ancestors. It is significant in various African cultures as well as other cultures around the globe.

The Buffongs say their next step is to look into more internship opportunities and figure out how to help curb the high numbers of Black high school graduates who leave the state to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

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Amtrak to Run Special Trains to Allensworth Historic Park Juneteenth Festival, June 11

Visitors attending the Juneteenth Festival will be able to take Amtrak San Joaquins trains to the Allensworth station. From there, riders will be met by a free shuttle for the short ride to the main property. The Allensworth station is normally a whistle stop on the San Joaquins available to be booked by groups desiring to visit the park.

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Allensworth State Park entry. Photo courtesy of CalParks.org. Trains will bring visitors to celebrate Juneteenth at site unique to California’s African American history
Allensworth State Park entry. Photo courtesy of CalParks.org. Trains will bring visitors to celebrate Juneteenth at site unique to California’s African American history

By David Lapari

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park is holding a celebratory Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In partnership, Amtrak San Joaquins has scheduled special trains, bookable at a 50% discount rate to bring travelers to a place of historical significance to Blacks in California.

The town of Allensworth was established in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth and at one point was home to more than 300 families. The park is a California state treasure because it was the first town in California to be founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park became a historical landmark in 1974.

The Juneteenth Festival is one of four major annual events hosted by Friends of Allensworth (FOA), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to support, promote, and advance the educational and interpretive activities at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

According to FOA, “Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. It was on June 19th, that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.”

Event activities will include square dancing, self-guided tours of historic buildings, historic games with prizes, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Food and refreshment vendors will also be present. Travelers can also bring their bikes and chairs aboard Amtrak trains and Thruway buses.

“Amtrak San Joaquins has been a long-time partner to the FOA in connecting the people of California with the historic town of Allensworth” said FOA President Sasha Biscoe. “We encourage any individual that is interested in immersing themselves in the rich, ethnically diverse history of our state to consider taking advantage of the affordable, convenient, and fun transportation option provided by Amtrak San Joaquins and join us on June 11th to celebrate Juneteenth.”

The southbound trains that will be running for the event include trains 702, 710, 712, 714. Northbound trains include trains 713, 715, 717 and 719. When purchasing train tickets, a 50% discount will automatically be applied to the ticket purchase and on up to five companion tickets. Additional discount programs regularly available to riders include:

  • Infants under 2 years of age ride for free
  • Children 2-12 years old ride half-price every day
  • Seniors (62+ years of age) receive 15% off
  • Veterans & active military members receive 15% off
  • Disabled riders save 10% off

Visitors attending the Juneteenth Festival will be able to take Amtrak San Joaquins trains to the Allensworth station. From there, riders will be met by a free shuttle for the short ride to the main property. The Allensworth station is normally a whistle stop on the San Joaquins available to be booked by groups desiring to visit the park.

Train tickets to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park can be booked online at amtraksanjoaquins.com. For more information on how to book a group trip to Allensworth, please contact Carmen Setness, community outreach coordinator for San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), at Carmen@sjjpa.com.

David Lapari works for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which is responsible for the management and administration of Amtrak San Joaquins.

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