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Social Justice warrior Alice Marie Johnson is dancing free

NNPA NEWSWIRE — ohnson garnered national attention when reality star and business mogul Kim Kardashian West became an advocate for her freedom. On June 6, 2018, President Donald Trump granted her clemency. She had been serving a mandatory life sentence without parole for her involvement in a nonviolent drug case.

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By Karanja A. Ajanaku, The New Tri-State Defender
kajanaku@tsdmemphis.com

After 21 years in federal prison, Alice Marie Johnson sprinted across a roadway near where she had been locked up. Waiting were family, friends and social justice warriors.

Nearly a year later, many of those same people (and many others) were in Memphis as Johnson danced – literally – onto a stage in a ballroom at The Peabody Hotel.

Alice Marie Johnson brought praise dance to the religious services where she was imprisoned in Forth Worth, Texas. During a recent celebration at The Peabody, she performed one of the dances. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Alice Marie Johnson brought praise dance to the religious services where she was imprisoned in Forth Worth, Texas. During a recent celebration at The Peabody, she performed one of the dances. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Johnson garnered national attention when reality star and business mogul Kim Kardashian West became an advocate for her freedom. On June 6, 2018, President Donald Trump granted her clemency. She had been serving a mandatory life sentence without parole for her involvement in a nonviolent drug case.

It was first and only conviction.

Now an author, Johnson has completed her memoir, “After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom.” A movie is in the making.

Johnson told her story at the National Civil Rights Museum last Monday. The gathering a few days before at The Peabody was an all-out family – extended family – celebration. As it wrapped up, Johnson talked of her late parents, Raymond and Sallie Mae Boggan.

“My parents, when things were going wrong, one thing we didn’t do – we never lost our praise,” she said. “I dedicated my memoir to them. I hope you will get the book and read – not just my story – but it’s also their story. It’s also my sisters and brothers’ story, my children’s story. Stories of the women and men left behind (in prison). People who have (traveled) on this journey with me.”

Calling her family members “incredible,” Johnson said they stood beside her throughout the ordeal. Her oldest daughter, Tretessa, served as surrogate mother to Johnson’s children.

“They all bonded together and kept our family unit together,” Johnson said. “Without that happening, I just don’t know if I personally would have been able to carry on the way I was able to. It was that assurance of knowing that my family was OK; that they had bonded in love and just looked after each other.”

Tretessa heaped praise on those who supported her family while her mother was in prison.

“When she went to prison, we all went there with her,” she said. “Behind the headlines that you see and all of the press, (prior to) that there was a lot of disappointment, a lot of rejection. A lot of getting our hopes up only to be dashed again.”

After Donald Trump was elected president, Tretessa said some told her there was no way he would free her mother.

“But what those people didn’t know (was) that God doesn’t care about odds. To witness what happened to her is really witnessing a miracle.”

Kardashian West could not make the trip and a video she prepared malfunctioned. A few minutes later, she was on the phone with Johnson, who shared the exchange.

It was one year to the day that Kardashian West had pitched for Johnson’s freedom during a meeting with President Trump in the White House.

Attorney Mike Scholl of Memphis and Brittany Barnett were part of Alice Marie Johnson’s “Dream Team” of lawyers.

Attorney Mike Scholl of Memphis and Brittany Barnett were part of Alice Marie Johnson’s “Dream Team” of lawyers.

Attorney Mike Scholl of Memphis and Brittany Barnett were part of the “Dream Team” of lawyers, along with Jennifer Turner and Shawn Holley, that Johnson in her book wrote “joined forces to rescue me from prison.”

Reflecting, Scholl said, “It just pained me to see such an incredible person such as Alice be locked away in a cage for something like this. It was nonviolent offense…a woman who got accused of a drug conspiracy, where she never saw any drugs, never possessed any drugs, never held any drugs and was sentenced to life in prison because of (the) archaic laws of our nation. I think it’s just a shame.”

Johnson was developed as a voice for people in similar circumstances, Scholl said.

“The reason I think this was her purpose in life is because if you knew all the things that had to occur, and all the things that had to happen for her to be with us tonight, you would be amazed.”

Barnett, said Scholl, had gotten 17 people out of prison already this year. Barnett said she was a bright-eyed law student representing a friend of Johnson’s, when she met Johnson 10-plus years ago.

“As a daughter of an incarcerated mother myself, one of my visions to change the world was to create a program in women’s prison to sustain a relationship between women in prison and their daughters.”

Faith Morris of the National Civil Rights Museum greets Alice Marie Johnson, who also shared her “freedom journey” during a presentation at the museum last Monday (June 3).

Faith Morris of the National Civil Rights Museum greets Alice Marie Johnson, who also shared her “freedom journey” during a presentation at the museum last Monday (June 3).

After securing a meeting with Chaplain Robert Danage in Fort Worth, Texas at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell prison and gaining his support, Barnett was introduced to “a woman in prison who wrote plays and was putting on a grand production. …”

Barnett said Johnson never gave up in the face of multiple rejections.

“It takes a special kind of grace and dignity to carry a life without parole sentence. …Thank you for continuing to rise up and thanks for continuing to lift us with you.”

Mayor Jim Strickland welcomed Johnson home.

“We need to use tonight as inspiration to make sure the right thing happens from here on forth,” said Strickland. “We’re all humans …not one of us is perfect. …But life is about forgiveness, second chances and lending a helping hand to those who need it when and where you can.

“Reducing recidivism and helping people get back on their feet has been a priority and passion of ours at City Hall since we took office. And it’s cases like Alice’s that serve as constant reminder that we have to take a hard look at our criminal justice system, especially when it comes to nonviolent offenders.”

Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries and one of Johnson’s social justice associates, told the crowd that the problem is a “two-tiered system” where the rich and guilty get much better treatment than the poor and innocent. …And if you don’t have resources, you are going to get run over.”

What can be done to make it better?

“What we’ve seen the last 10 to 15 years in criminal justice reform is phenomenal but it’s not happening fast enough,” Holden said.

“What we did in the 80s and 90s…being over-punitive and lock people up and throw away the key, that went really fast. We’re still trying to peel that back. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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