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Anthony Graves ushers in new era of justice

Wrongfully sentenced to death row

Jeffrey L. Boney NNPA Newswire political analyst | 2/7/2019, midnight
Imagine spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime you never committed.

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, 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. He is also the associate editor of the Houston Forward Times. Follow him on Twitter @realtalkjunkies.