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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.



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

Jeffrey Boney is a political analyst for the NNPA Newswire and 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.


Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 



Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web


On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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Will Alameda’s Rob Bonta Save Assault Weapons Ban and Make His Mark?

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.



What Is Picture Perfect/ Unsplash

When was the last time you heard about an assault weapon wreaking havoc in California? How about two weeks ago in San Jose when nine innocent lives were lost when they were shot and killed by a disgruntled white male who had a problem with diversity. 

Technically, the weapon used wasn’t an assault rifle, but a 9mm pistol jacked up with a high capacity magazine. Still, it’s illegal in California. The point is, there are laws and there are loopholes. But it’s no reason to get rid of California’s assault weapons ban, the first such law in the nation. 

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

And now, the ban that Asian Americans as victims brought 32 years ago in California will need the new Asian American Filipino attorney general to show his true mettle to make sure he reverses the judge and stays the law.

Bet you didn’t know there even was such a ban in California? Yep, and in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as Wash., D.C.

There was even a ban in place for a brief time nationwide.

The pro-gun logic of the judge essentially was that since people in other states could get assault weapons and the ban hasn’t stopped mass shootings, what good was the law? “A 30-year-old failed experiment,” said Benitez, who called the AR-15 assault weapons “fairly ordinary, popular modern rifles.” For example, the law allowed those who owned assault weapons before the ban to register their guns. To date, there are 185,569 assault weapons in the state even with a ban.

But popularity doesn’t make them benign.

Benitez even compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

That’s such a strange comparison.

I have a small Swiss Army knife that comes with a toothpick and tweezers. I’ve never seen an AR-15 come with either. Does that make the SA knife the superior tool?

Of course, you’re not really looking to pick the spinach off anyone’s teeth, nor pluck a splinter from a finger, with an AR-15. It’s a weapon with one purpose— to kill. And keep killing. Fast.

Not just one, but many. E pluribus Mass Shootings.

That makes the comparison to a Swiss Army anything absurd. But the judge piled it on. He added that knives kill seven times more people in California than rifles do. Maybe. But around the nation, assault rifles are the death-per-minute king.

The AR-15 was used at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, when 49 people were killed. In Las Vegas, an AR-15 was used to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert in 2017.

Imagine the killings in California if the state ban wasn’t in place. That’s an unknowable statistic. But the most important one. 

Without the ban, is there any doubt deaths by assault rifles would rise? More assault rifles. More incidents. More deaths per minute. 

Asian Victims Brought on Ban

The reason we have the law in the first place was because of a school shooting in 1989 in Stockton when Patrick Purdy killed five children of Southeast Asian refugees and wounded 30 others.

Purdy, a 25-year-old unemployed welder was reported to have said he hated Vietnamese immigrants, whom he believed were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. He was also fond of carrying a book from the white supremacy group, Aryan Nations.

That was his book of choice. But his gun of choice was an assault-style weapon, not the AR-15, but a Chinese-made AK-47. On Jan. 17, 1989, Purdy went to the Cleveland School and fired 106 rounds in three minutes, before taking a pistol and shooting himself in the head.

Because of that crime, the state passed the nation’s first assault weapons ban, signed by a Republican governor, George Deukmejian. What a different time. It seems like such a normal reaction. Nowadays, the deaths at Sandy Hook or Parkland  schools aren’t enough to get any law passed, and we fight over gadgets that make regular guns emulate semi-automatic weapons. 

Bonta to the Rescue?

Enter Rob Bonta, Oakland’s former state Assemblyman, a little more than a month into his new job as state Attorney General. He’s called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and now has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. From there, whatever the decision, the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutional right to have assault weapons.

I imagine the six conservative justices are dying to inject some steroids into the Second Amendment.

But this could also be the case where Bonta, the pride of the Filipino American community, gets to showcase his mettle on a national scale. After just being appointed, he’s already thrust into campaign mode and has at least one strong victims’ rights candidate, vying for his job.

This could be a big-time moment for him and for us. Let’s hope he’s up for the polarizing fight against a gun lobby that twists the 2nd Amendment and forces us to live with unwanted and excessive violence.

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Cheryl Smith

Don’t Start Tripping About Washing Your Hands

Someone has to tell you, an adult, this? What the heck? Weren’t you raised right? Didn’t you learn at an early age to wash your hand when you finished your business? Someone really had to tell you to wash your hands after wiping your behind? Really?



Hand Washing


When the pandemic hit in early 2020, we received mixed signals. One message that was constant was, “wash your hands.” Even before the mandate to wear masks, health officials were stressing the importance of hand-washing.

The Centers for Disease Control instructed, “To prevent the spread of germs during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.”

I loved that directive because I have always wondered about people who didn’t wash their hands. Go into any restaurant and you’ll find signs instructing employees to wash their hands. The CDC gave explicit instructions: Follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Someone has to tell you, an adult, this? What the heck? Weren’t you raised right? Didn’t you learn at an early age to wash your hand when you finished your business? Someone really had to tell you to wash your hands after wiping your behind? Really

Which brings me to my truth.

Yes, there were times when I didn’t act like I had home training. I did things — things that I definitely didn’t want my parents to find out about. But this washing my hands thing? Basic hygiene practices? Nah, didn’t roll like that.

No one has ever had to tell me to wash my hands but I sure as heck have had to tell people to wash their hands especially before coming into my kitchen.

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