The Riverside Church in New York City, community leaders gathered to commemorate Juneteenth with an exciting program on their Fourth Annual Juneteenth Celebration.
This Juneteenth celebration gathers the community to reflect on the 50th anniversary year of Dr. King’s assassination, as well as renew our commitment to “The Fierce Urgency for Justice Now” for all God’s children. In the spirit of the first Juneteenth celebrations in Texas in 1865, the celebration included music, dance and of course a message challenging us to continue our efforts to become “a more perfect Union.”
As a member of the youth leadership campaign to build platforms for young people to express themselves and have their voice heard, I was truly Blessed with an AMAZING opportunity to introduce the 2018 Juneteenth Spirit Alive Awards to the three parkland highschool students who’ve taken transformative action, challenging government officials and congressional representatives to reform Gun polices. The turn out was monumental with over 600 people in audience, all to celebrate the conclusion of slavery and African American economic advancement. I was inspired, empowered, refreshed re-energized with the mission of Social Change in the interest of establishing a ‘JUST’ Democracy! – Jarrell Daniels
In 2016, the Columbia University Trustees and the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) established The Campbell Award, which is presented to a graduating student at each school who shows exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit, as exemplified by the late Bill Campbell ’62CC, ’64TC, Chair Emeritus, University Trustee and CAA co-founder.
Read below to learn about this year’s recipients. Congratulations to these new Columbia alumni!
Durrell Malik Washington Sr. ’18SW
In just a year at the School of Social Work, as an Advanced Standing Program participant, Washington was a strong leader supporting students of color, particularly men of color, in multiple roles. He was committed to mentoring and offering help and advice when he perceived the need from his fellow and prospective classmates. He trained to facilitate the SW Professional Development and Self-Awareness (PDSA) workshop, required of all students at orientation. As a lead for Beyond the Bars Fellows, he spoke at its opening ceremony this spring.
Devon Wade ’18GSAS (Posthumous)
When at Columbia, Wade served as a founding member of Students of Color Alliance (SoCA) and for the Center of Justice at Columbia Incarceration Working Group. He was also an instructor and teaching assistant for courses including Sociology of Race, Crime, and Law and Sociology of Work and Gender. He served as a graduate student mentor and student representative on a search committee for the GSAS Asst. Dean of Academic Diversity. Outside of Columbia, he was a spokesperson for No More Victims, Inc., a not-for-profit organization based in Houston that supports the children of incarcerated parents.
Congratulations to Jasmeen K Nijjar for winning the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) Student Award
Jasmeen Nijjar is a CSSW class of 2018 Graduate with her MSW at Columbia University School of Social Work. Motivated by her own personal experiences, Jasmeen has developed a strong passion for advocacy and social justice work. She currently interns as a program coordinator for the Rikers Education Program at the Center for Justice at Columbia University, and as a case management intern at Common Justice. Jasmeen also does legal observing with the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. She previously interned at the Legal Aid Society and the Vera Institute of Justice. At Columbia University, Jasmeen is a student leader for the Southern Poverty Law Center chapter at CSSW as well as a member of the Directly Impacted Group (DIG). She has previously been an advocate at New York Presbyterian for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and facilitated workshops at RMSC on Rikers Island. Prior to Columbia University and living in NYC, Jasmeen lived in California, where she attended San Jose State University and received her undergraduate degree in child and adolescent development with a minor in human rights. There, she also conducted research with children and advocated for undocumented members of her community through DACA and DAPA assistance and workshops that her human rights cohort hosted. She also worked with youth, including those who were justice impacted, before she moved to NYC. Jasmeen looks forward to graduating this coming May and continuing her work after graduation in NYC.
Congratulations to our own Jay Holder, Valedictorian, and Robert Wright, for graduating from Mercy College with their bachelor’s degree on Wednesday, June 6 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It was the first time either had set foot back into the prison in which they lived for almost a decade.
When I woke up that morning and began preparing for the day’s graduation, it felt surreal. Like the point in a dream when you realize that you are not awake. I could not believe I was willingly returning to the place I loathe and spent every night escaping through my mind. It was only 3 months ago that I was treated less than human, caged in and counted 4 times a day. I was just a number. I wore a number on my chest, was referred to as a number. Rarely was I ever called by my name.
Today I return as Mr. Wright. As I stare in the mirror, really beginning to understand just how far I have come, I look down for confirmation of my new reality, and I am not wearing any state greens. This is real. Who walks back into hell after taking a tour of heaven? But I would not have it any other way. Who else could I celebrate this accomplishment with? I have to rejoice with the same men I suffered with, dreamed with. The same ones I spent countless time circling the yard, sharing our dreams, even when we were not sure we would ever wake up from our nightmare. I owe it to them to show them what hope can accomplish. I must show them that light still exists, and the darkness in which they live will pass. I know this because I was once hopeless. I could not see past my own pain and regret for a long time.
Today I walk back into this facility, not to parade my accomplishments or to rub it in the faces of all of who did their best to break my spirit. No, I am returning for my brothers who need to see what life is, who have been locked away so long they no longer feel alive. I hope my presence blew air back into your lungs and gives you new life. As I walk through the processing area, I get the urge to turn around and leave. I became angry as I am told to take off my shoes and belt before walking through a metal detector. Emotions I thought I had finally resolved began to emerge. I promised myself never to come back to this place. Now here I am. Then I start to think this is what my family and friends had to go through to see me for years. Who am I to complain now?
The ceremony was held in the same visiting room that I hugged my loved ones in for years. It felt weird, like maybe I never left. I was reliving the many times I walked this room as an inmate. At one point, I even asked an officer could I use the bathroom. In that split second, I was an inmate again. I guess the residue of my previous life was still seeping through my pores. I was only a visitor now and could use the bathroom designated for visitors. That felt good, I smiled inside knowing I had that choice now. And that is when it really hit me. I am a free man. I have prevailed over a system that was designed to crush me. Yet, here I am. Not only am I here, but I am standing. I hug and shake hands with every man that still gets locked in a cage at night, wondering what they will do when they get their life back. I hope when they went back to their cells and the lights go out for that final count, they see me, but instead of my face they see themselves, and realize that hope is only belief in yourself when you have every reason to give up. One love.
The Center for Justice is excited to share that we have been granted funding from the Novo Foundation’s Radical Hope Fund for our newest Initiative, Women Transcending.
Women Transcending was developed by and for women impacted by mass incarceration. It is dedicated to ending the system of mass incarceration, criminalization, and retribution, replacing it with one centered on prevention and healing. Radical Hope funding will be used to support an education center providing the tools, training, skills, movement history, leadership development, peer mentoring, platform, and vibrant community that women need to become transformative social justice advocates. Participants will develop strategies to confront the criminalization of women, their families, and communities; support women returning home from prison; document the growth of directly impacted women’s leadership, and ultimately change the structure of justice in the United States and beyond.
You can read more about the Radical Hope Fund and the other grantees HERE.
We at the center for justice are proud to say we were invited to attend the “Vote for Justice” event held in Washington D.C. This red-carpet affair was a celebration of awareness, and a commitment to stopping mass incarceration. There was entertainment the likes of African dance, singing, and panel discussions. As the show ended, awards were giving to those who play the most significant role in our fight against mass incarceration. As the names were called, and people filled the stage to receive their awards, it is astonishing to sheer number of people who are actively in this fight with us. They are names you never heard, faces you won’t recognize. All are dedicated to change. If not for events like this, we wouldn’t know how massive a movement we are a part of. This event is evidence that people all over the world are awake. The next morning a breakfast conference was held. Here minds collided, and ideas emerged about voter awareness, and how to educate voters about the stance politicians have taken concerning policies that directly effect their community.
Congratulations to our own Center for Justice Research Assistant, Robert Wright, who recently published his first essay on the Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” and Vice’s website. Robert has been with the Center for Justice since being released from prison in March. Since then he has contributed not only as a research assistance, but also by aiding in creating curriculum for college courses inside prison. Along with his vivid articles and essays that depict his experience with the justice system, he his fully committed to showing how the power of education is a more effective means of altering one’s behavior than is incarceration.
Every Saturday for the month of May, in an old firehouse in Manhattan, an event was being held to bring people together who shared the same urgency for ending mass incarceration and overall injustice in this country. Panel discussions were held in the afternoons by different organizations and people who either play a vital role in creating change or have serious concerns about the state of our judicial system. Our Justice in Education Scholars, Jay Holder helped organize and present panel discussions that featured The Center for Justice at Columbia University. Prof. Geraldine Downey, Pastor Isaac Scott, Jarell Daniels, Robert Wright, and Dr. Claudia Rincon all contributed to discussions that centered around prison reform and the enormous effect higher education has on the lives of those incarcerated.
Even as crime is at national lows and 36 states have reduced imprisonment rates, the number of older adults in prison, many of whom require specialized medical care for age-related illnesses, has only continued to grow. By 2030, people over 50 will make up one-third of the US prison population, putting an unsustainable pressure on the justice system as a whole.