The Struggle for Justice: The 1619 Project and the Changing Narrative on Mass Incarceration

The Struggle for Justice: The 1619 Project and the Changing Narrative on Mass Incarceration


PAUL COFFEY: Welcome
and thank you for joining us at the School of
the Art Institute of Chicago. My name is Paul Coffey. I’m the Vice Provost and
Dean of Community Engagement. I’m from the Office
of Engagement where we manifest the
school’s commitment to artists, designers, citizen. We’re honored to be
co-presenting tonight The Struggle for Justice, along with
two incredible organizations– the Pulitzer Center for Crisis
Reporting and the Illinois Humanities. A few notes of housekeeping. Bathrooms are on the upper
level towards the back. Elevators to your right,
stairs to your left. Could you please
silence your phones? At the end of
today’s presentation, we’re going to have a
question and answer. We’ve distributed
some note cards for questions and answers. Tycoon will be moving
through the crowd collecting those cards, and we
will present those cards to the moderator for discussion. Now, I’m particularly
proud to introduce our President and my
friend, the 15th Executive and the first woman to lead
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Miss Elissa Tenny. [APPLAUSE] ELISSA TENNY: Thank you, Paul. And welcome to everyone. We are thrilled to have you
all here with us tonight. The School of the Art
Institute of Chicago is pleased to partner once
again with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and
Illinois Humanities on tonight’s program, The Struggle for
Justice, The 1619 Project and the Changing Narrative
on Mass Incarceration. There is an idea
contained in that title. The idea of the changing
narrative that I think is so powerful today. Last week I attended
a talk with the much awarded journalist and
essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who was discussing his first novel. Of the many powerful
things he shared that night, perhaps
the most powerful was his description of how
we might in effect change the past. For why past events
may be immutable, the stories we
tell about them can be remade, expanded, and
more frankly understood in our current moment. I thought tonight’s
distinguished speaker whose 1619 project is
clearly paradigm shifting, and our panelists,
community leaders working towards a more just
criminal justice system, might appreciate
Coates’ observation. Because as I think we
all will affirm tonight, new narratives about our past
can open up a changed narrative for our present and future. At SAIC, we know that how
we understand our past and how we envision
our future has always been a fundamental role that
artists and designers play in our shared society. As communicators in
a variety of media, all artists and designers are
citizens in a global sense. Through their
studies, our students are afforded opportunities
to acknowledge the interconnectedness
of all people and understand the potential
influence their work can have on the world. The school’s emerging
citizen artists and designers get these experiences both in
the classroom and beyond it. Experiences beyond the
classroom include the work of the Office of Engagement
led by Paul Coffey, through the courses and
community projects undertaken at our home and square satellite
campus in North Lawndale, as well as other projects
throughout the city. It also can be seen in the
work of our faculty members, like Sara Ross and
Jason Boulware, who you will hear on tonight’s panel. It also takes place
through partnerships with other civically
minded organizations, including our partners
tonight, Illinois Humanities and the Pulitzer Center
on Crisis Reporting. If you have not yet seen the
amazing exhibition envisioning justice, which showcases
Illinois Humanity’s multi-year commitment to
changing incarceration narrative in Chicago, please
do visit our Sullivan Galleries that’s just around
the corner at 33 South State Street
before the exhibition closes on October 12. So only a few days. And finally, it gives
me great pleasure to introduce the Executive
Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Jon Sawyer. [APPLAUSE] JON SAWYER: Good evening. OK. We’re fixing. Thank you, Elissa, and
to all our colleagues at SAIC, one of the newest
members of our campus consortium, the network of
over three dozen universities, community colleges, and
historically black colleges and universities who work
with the Pulitzer Center, they’re bringing the issues
our journalists cover onto their campuses. We’ve been so inspired by
the work of SAIC and so many of the Chicago
communities we seek to serve from North Lawndale
to the Illinois Youth Center to State Prison, and
to the wonderful community of students right here at SAIC. A special thanks to
our board member, Bill Bush, who has also
served on the board of SAIC, and whose support has
made possible the great collaborations that
we’ve been able to begin. More thanks to our
fellow grantees of the Art for Justice
Fund, the amazing initiative begun by Agnes Gund that
has done so much to tackle the fundamental
injustices in our system of mass incarceration. We’re so honored that justice
reform advocates, Norris Henderson, Deb Labelle,
and Eric Alexander have been with us
this week sharing their urgently important work
with our school and university partners across the city. And last, most important, I
want to thank The New York Times, Times Magazine
editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, and the
incomparable Nikole Hannah-Jones. [APPLAUSE] And the lead writer on
the project most of us consider among the most
consequential of any journalism initiative in American history. The subject of 1619– of the 1619 project is, in
fact, American history itself. The truths in our story that
we have distorted and buried or willfully ignored. It is astonishing that so much
of what the 1619 project has to say about the role of
slavery in American history comes as a revelation. But a revelation it
clearly is, not least in holding up to unsparing
light the myriad ways in which slavery and the
experiences of enslaved people inform the institutions, laws,
and culture of America today. One of those
consequences of slavery is a system of
mass incarceration unique to our country. A system that would
be unimaginable absent the centuries of abuse,
racism, privilege, and denial that brought it about. Our gathering
tonight is a chance to reflect on that history
and on this present moment. To hear from Nicole
about 1619, and then from our panel of activist,
artist, and journalist about how the
history she reveals contributes to the evils of
mass incarceration today. It is way past time to be
holding such conversations. The Pulitzer Center is so
grateful to The New York Times for the opportunity to be
education partner on this 1619 project, to Chicago Public
Schools, and CPS/CEO Janice Jackson for helping
us to get copies of the magazine
and our curriculum into every high school
across the city. And– [APPLAUSE] And to all of you for
being here tonight and for your commitment to a
more just America in the years to come. And with that,
Nikole Hannah-Jones. [APPLAUSE] NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES:
I always get nervous. OK. Good. I like spotlight. Good evening, everyone. Thank you all for coming
out for what I’m sure is going to be a very important
conversation about one of the most appalling
aspects of American society, which is that we incarcerate
more people in this country than any place in the world. And, of course, the disparate
portion number of those are the descendants
of the enslaved. So I’m here tonight
to talk to you a bit about the 1619 project. And this is just
kind of flipping you through the magazine right now. And I can tell
you none of us who worked on this expected that
it would land in the world as it did. And if there are any
journalists in here, I think there’s one thing
that this shows is, one, print is not dead, if
you produce something that is beautiful and powerful. [APPLAUSE] We have a waiting list of about
30,000 that we cannot fill right now and I’ve gotten a
lot of angry emails about that, but it’s not my fault. So what we endeavor to do, of
course, with the 1619 project was to radically
shift the way that we think about not just our
country and our founding, but about the role that
black Americans have played. And that’s going to be kind of
the center of my remarks today. What if I told you
that the year 1619 is as important to the American
story as the year 1776. And that America is a country
born of both an idea and a lie. I personally have been
obsessed with the year 1619 since I first saw that date on
page 29 of the landmark book, Before the Mayflower. It was written by
historian Lerone Bennett, and he wrote these words– “What seems unusual today
is that no one sensed how extraordinary she
really was, for few ships before or since have unloaded
a more momentous cargo.” I wonder how many in this
room had heard of the year 1619 prior to the project? Because when you think
about those words from Lerone Bennett,
he is right, that there have been few
ships that have unloaded such a momentous cargo. And yet that history
has long been obscured. Like most Americans, I
was taught very little about the institution
of slavery. It, of course, explained
the American presence of my family and all the black
people that I knew and saw. But like most Americans,
I was taught largely that slavery was marginal
to the American story. And that slavery only had to
be mentioned in history books because we had to somehow
explain the Civil War. But even in that oh,
so brief discussion, slavery was relegated largely
to the backward south. And that narrative assured
us that slavery had little to do with how our
country developed. That it was a backwards
economic system, that the good guys
lived in the north, and that we fought
a war that both was and wasn’t about slavery. And then slavery ended
and the country moved on and Martin Luther
King had his dream, and we all sang Kumbayah. I’ve been thinking
about the anniversary of 1619 pretty obsessively
for the last two years. When I first read that
date, it kind of hit me like a lightning bolt
because I couldn’t believe that people of
African descent had been here before the pilgrims
landed at Plymouth Rock. And I understood that
there was a reason why that part of the
narrative– we all learned about Plymouth
Rock, but we never learned about Port
Comfort, Virginia. And I understood that in the
creation of national memory, that was an intentional decision
repeated again and again by the people who were trying
to teach us how to think about ourselves as American. So as this anniversary
was approaching, I just kept thinking
that it was going to pass in most households
without any notice. That most Americans
would have no idea that there was an anniversary
to be commemorated at all. And how many times
in life do you get the opportunity
to commemorate 400 years of anything? But particularly, 400 years
of something so consequential. So I felt that Americans
should know this date, and that this should be
the time where we actually assess what this date means. Because this date
is the very reason that we exist
today as a country. And we would not be
the country that we are in ways both good and
bad were it not for slavery. We all know, of course,
that slavery was really about the theft of labor. Slavery made the
colonies wealthy. And, in fact, it made
the colony so wealthy that it gave these scrappy
founders and colonists the actual belief
that they could defeat one of the most
powerful empires in the world. It gave them the
confidence and the wealth to declare independence
from England. Because slavery at its height
produced 2/3 of the world’s cotton supply here in America. The value of the bodies
of enslaved people was worth more than all of
the railroads and factories in the nation combined. You haven’t read the project,
I’m going to repeat that. The value of the human
bodies of enslaved people was worth more than
all of the railroads and the factories combined. This was not a backwards,
not profitable institution. This is the institution on
which the wealth of this country was built. I know you don’t know
whether to clap for that or just acknowledge it. I feel you. Slavery was so
integral to our country that New York City at
the time of the Civil War threatened to secede
from the Union and join the Confederacy
because more than half of all the exports that
were coming out of the ports was enslaved grown cotton. And the financial sector
that turned New York City into the financial
capital of the world was built on the mortgaging,
financing, insurance, and collateralizing
of enslaved workers. The fate of the
North wasn’t tied up with the fate of slavery. I often wonder when we
talk about the Industrial Revolution, where
does one suppose that cotton that they were
spinning in those textile mills came from? That cotton came from
enslaved workers in the South. And those white textile workers
did not own human beings, but their wages
determined on other people owning human beings. There were no clean
hands to be had. Enslaved people built the
infrastructure of this country, particularly in the
Northeast and the South. They built the railroads,
the streets, the government buildings, including the White
House and the Capitol building. They cleared the timbers
across the southeast that led to the
expansion of slavery and allowed us to expand and
grow both rice and cotton. In other words, it is
the enslaved people who had an indelible impact
on the nation’s wealth and allowed us to
pay off our war debts after the
Revolutionary War, and allowed us to go on
to become a superpower. For instance, the
second richest man in the country in
the early 1800s was a slave trader who lived
in Rhode Island who never owned a human being himself,
but simply sent the ships that took us from Africa
and brought us here and sold us and was able
to make lavish profits and build the university
that’s in Rhode Island now. So we know about the
financial impact of slavery. But I’m actually much more
interested in a point that is much less well
understood, and almost universally
overlooked when we’re taught about slavery and the
black presence in America. And it is that black people have
played perhaps the most vital role throughout this
country’s history in that it has been we who have been the
perfectors of this democracy. You see the words of the
country’s founding documents were false when
they were written. When Thomas Jefferson wrote
in that room in Philadelphia that we hold these
truths to be self-evident that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their creator with
certain unalienable rights, that among these
are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some of the most famous words
in the English language. Many of us don’t even
have to read the words. We know them by memory. But what we were not told is
as he’s writing those words, there is an enslaved young
man sitting at his side. And that enslaved young man
is the brother of his wife. It is his own family. And he knows as he
write those words that his own family, as well
as one-fifth of a country, would enjoy none of those
rights and liberties. That 1/5 of our
country at our founding lived in absolute bondage. And that, in fact,
our country was not founded as a democracy
but a slave-ocracy. We were a country
ruled by slave owners. And it is not incidental that
10 of the first 12 presidents were enslavers who got their
wealth and their privilege by operating forced labor camps
where black people were forced to work. But even though the founders
set up a decidedly undemocratic constitution, a
constitution that if you read it before amended
actually denies the right to vote to the
majority of citizens. Women could not vote
under that constitution. Native Americans could not
vote under that constitution. And certainly, black
people could not vote under that constitution. But black people responded
to those words with a belief that those words to be made–
were to be made manifest. And they responded by fighting
for the universal equality that the founders wrote
but didn’t believe in. From the moment when Chris
[INAUDIBLE],, a man who was a fugitive from slavery,
who himself was not free, became the first person to die
for the American Revolution. To Black Lives Matter
protests today, it is black people who have
fought to make the ideals in the Constitution a reality. Not only fighting wars
abroad to bring democracy to other places, but then
returning home and having to fight our own
countrymen in hopes that we can bring democracy here. It is during reconstruction
that public education begins in the South. There was no public education
until the formerly enslaved demanded public education
for their own children and set up a system
of public education that benefited poor
white children, as well. The amendments ending slavery,
providing equal protection of the law, and citizenship,
and universal suffrage, and the first civil rights
legislation in this country all come from the struggle
of black Americans to make the ideals
of our country real. And 100 years later,
black Americans were still struggling
for those rights that they had gained in the
13th, 14th and 15th amendments. The civil rights
struggle of the 1960s would set the stage for all
other civil rights battles. When you look at immigration
rights, gay rights, women’s rights, disability rights,
all of those rights come because of the black
resistance struggle. When black people got
civil rights laws passed, they were never just to
benefit black Americans. They were always to
benefit all Americans. And if you read the
Civil Rights Act, they banned discrimination
not just based on race, but on national origin, on
religion, and on gender. In fact, when gay rights
advocates successfully advocated that the Constitution
required that gay people be allowed to marry, it was
under the 14th Amendment passed to ensure
equal protection under the law for those who
had been born into slavery that they made that
successful argument. So I think we should
keep that in mind, that those who have been
the most marginalized have been the ones who
have fought the hardest to bring equality for
other marginalized people in this nation, even
though oftentimes we fought those battles alone. We are a unique people
because we came here under unique circumstances. We are the only people
outside of Native Americans who did not choose to be a
part of the United States. And we are the only people who
were forced across an ocean to be here. We were the only people
who were completely severed from our native
lands and our native tongues and our native religions
and our cultures. As I write in my
essay, our people were born on the water
in those slave ships where we were forced to leave
everything we knew behind and try to find
something new here. And a sociologist,
Glen Bracy wrote, “It was out of the ashes
of white denigration that we gave birth
to ourselves.” That’s a beautiful thing, right? [APPLAUSE] The enslaved created
themselves anew here, isolated from both our
native lands and forcibly segregated from mainstream
white culture in a way that no other group in this
country has experienced. We actually created out of
that circumstance the only true unique American
culture that exists. You could say that
because of this, because we are people who
were created on these lands, that we are the most
American of all Americans. When the world hears
quintessential American music, it is our voice that they hear. Our unique style,
our avant Garde flair came from enslaved
people’s determination to exert our own individuality
in a system of chattel slavery that tried to shear all
sense of our humanity. When you look at black
naming practices, something that so many of
us like to malign, the fact that so many
marginalized black people choose not a European
name, nor an African name for their children, but a
name that they created here in America. We maligned that, but that
is an act of resistance, and that is an act of
self-determination, and those names are beautiful. [APPLAUSE] The things that we have looked
down upon black communities for are actually signs
of our resilience and our determination
to thrive and to create our own culture in the most
brutal of circumstances. Black people, in order
to justify slavery and original sin, have
from the beginning been treated as a
problem, as something that needs to be removed or solved. If you go to Google right
now and you Google the Negro problem, or black
problem, you will find an unending
amount of research and think pieces
and articles that are attempting to resolve the
problem of black Americans. But if you read
the 1619 project, then you understand that
black people have never been the problem. [APPLAUSE] That any one of us who can
tick off the stereotypes that we hear the statistics all
the time about out of wedlock births, about incarceration
rates, about crime rates, about college attendance rates,
about unemployment rates, that not a single
one of these things are surprising in
a country built on racial caste that didn’t even
believe that black people could be full citizens until 1968. So what if instead of
thinking about black people as the problem in this 400
year we finally started seeing that black people are,
in fact, and have always been, the solution. [APPLAUSE] I’m going to wrap up by telling
you guys a little story. I grew up about
four hours from here in a small working class
town called Waterloo, Iowa. My family came on
the same migration that brought most of the
black people in Chicago here from Mississippi. And I like to say we got on– my grandmother and her
three young children got on the Illinois
Central Line, and we were so country
we didn’t realize we had got off too early. We thought we had
hit the big city. But for that I will
be a Chicagoan, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Well, my grandmother
was born in Greenwood. And Greenwood was the
most lynchingest county in the most lynchingest
state in the country. More people were
lynched in Greenwood than any single county
in the United States. And more people were lynched
in Mississippi, black people, than in any county– in any state in
the United States. And she grew up in a place
of complete apartheid. My father was literally
born on a cotton plantation because black people could
not go to the hospital to deliver their children. My grandmother– I am just
touching everything up here. Sorry. My grandmother never
got to live her dreams and she never got to see
me get to where I am. She, like so many
of our ancestors, though, bore what they did
so that we, the descendants, might be here today. And there’s so many
of our ancestors had not lived to see this. We 40 million descendants
who came from that 20 that grew to 4 million by the
end of the Civil War, that grew to 40 million now, we
are the living testimony of our ancestors, and the
strength and the resilience and the determination that
this country would be ours, and we would make this
country live up to our ideals. This project, above
all else, is an attempt to set the record straight. To reframe our
historical narrative, and instead of
marginalizing slavery and treating black people as
the bottom, to instead center slavery as it should be,
and the contributions of black Americans
and to place them. Not just in the center
of American history but in the center of
what we tell ourselves about who we are. And you can see this in
the project that nothing about American life. This is not a history. It is about the modern
and living legacy that you can look at things
from traffic jams in Atlanta, or why we consume so much
sugar, why millions of Americans die for lack of health care. The very geography of our cities
and the brutality of our system of incarceration. Our very democracy
itself would not exist without black Americans. And almost nothing has
been left untouched by that decision in 1619, just
12 years after the English landed Jamestown to introduce
slavery into the colonies. Our project argues
that August of 1619 is our true founding, not 1776. And that black
Americans, as much as those men whose images
are cast in alabaster in our nation’s capital, are
this nation’s true founding fathers. And in doing so, we hope that
finally in this 400 year, the 1619 project
will force us to tell the truth about who we are as
a nation, and who we can be. Because until we tell
the truth, until we confront what we have done,
we will never make it right. And so it is time to
stop hiding our sins but to confront them and
then work to do justice for not just those who
are the descendants before a whole society. I thank you so much
for joining me tonight, and I look forward to the
conversation that continues. This is where we start. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] GABRIELLE LYON: Nikole,
thank you so much. And I really just– I’m digesting. I know you weren’t
clapping for me. I really want to
just take a minute to say one thing, which is, I
really want to thank Pulitzer and SAIC for hosting
this free program in this extraordinary space
and letting us be together. So I really want to thank
everybody just one more time. [APPLAUSE] My name is Gabrielle Lyon. I’m the Executive Director
of Illinois Humanities. We’ve been around about
45 years and there’s much work to be done. We do things that help
us to be more human and to be more humane. We give grants, we run
education programs. But most of all,
we try to do this. And I really want to
carry forward something that Nikole is really
charging us to do and which I think
is very important. Shifting the narrative, changing
the way we understand ourselves cannot happen simply by reading
the extraordinary compendium that is 1619. And so at Illinois
Humanities, we really believe that changing
the narrative means that we collectively
have to name the moment and to bring a new language. And I think that’s what’s so
special about this program. And to really trace and
make the living connection between the history and
this moment and the struggle around mass incarceration. I think envisioning
justice is a project that Elissa made mention of. It’s something we’ve been
involved in for the last two years at Illinois
Humanities, working closely with some of the communities
most devastatingly impacted by mass incarceration. And one of the things that
we’ve learned, if nothing else, is that we will never be
able to change the narrative, to transform the narrative, if
we don’t make time and space to come together as a public. And that it’s part of our job
as a public to actually have those conversations. It’s going to be our collective
efforts, our radical shifts in understanding. And that’s what I really
call us to do as we have this next part of the program. Because being here
together tonight, we become a public by being here. We would not be here tonight
without the 1619 project. We would not be here
tonight without the vision and generosity. But it’s not just about what
we are doing here tonight in this moment,
it’s about our work, our collective
imagination for how we’re going to shift that narrative. And so we’re extraordinarily
lucky to have the panelists that are going to
come up on stage now, join us. And so I encourage
you, as you meet them, as we hear from them,
to think about what it means to imagine together. And as we do every day
at Illinois Humanities, really think about what it means
for us to shift that narrative by being a public. Joining me onstage,
firstly, is Kristen Mack, who will be moderating
our conversation. Kristen Mack is a
journalist herself. She’s a communicator
by practice, and she’s the Interim
Director of Communications at the John D and Catherine
T MacArthur Foundation. And I would be
remiss if I did not make sure to mention that
the John B and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation have
made extraordinary efforts, both to reduce
mass incarceration and also illuminate through
the humanities and arts. Thank you very much. What is so inhumane about it? Kristen’s going to moderate. She is going– she’s got some
questions for our panelists. I just want to remind you, if
you have those index cards, please write some
questions down. We’ll be collecting those. Jason Boulware. Oh, there we go. Thank you. Jason is a producer and
visual artist working in video and acrylic mediums. He’s also a faculty
member right here at SAIC. Aren’t you lucky? But his work– it is– we’re all lucky actually. His work centers around youth
incarceration and its effects on the communities,
as well as what it’s going to take for juvenile
justice transformation. He’s a recipient of the IYC
Chicago Volunteer of the Year Award right here in
2019, and the 2019 State of Illinois Department
of Juvenile Justice Volunteer of the Year. And thank you for that service. Next, we have Sarah
Ross, who’s right here. Sarah, will you give a wave? Sarah and Jason worked together. Sarah is an artist
and educator whose own work is centered on the
spatial politics of race, gender, class and control. She co-founded an extraordinary
effort, the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project,
known fondly as PNAP. And it’s a cultural project
that brings together artists, writers, scholars in and
outside Stateville Prison, to create public art projects. Sarah has worked closely with
local artists, activists, lawyers, torture
survivors, and scholars on the Chicago Torture
Justice Memorial. It’s a cultural
project and campaign that organized and
won reparations for and with survivors of
Chicago police torture. And it is another extraordinary
thing, along with 1619, that CPS has incorporated
into its entire curriculum. So we’ve got an extraordinary
effort underway. Sarah is also on
faculty at SAIC. You’re getting gold stars
all the way, Elissa. I also want to introduce
Norris Henderson. He’s the founder and
executive director, and he has been focused on
reforming the notorious Orleans Parish Prison, OPP. He himself was wrongfully
incarcerated for 27 years. He’s got firsthand experiences
of the racism and brutality of the criminal justice system,
and he uses these experiences to address the needs
of communities of color across Louisiana– and well beyond. In fact, he’s inspired many
of us to think in new ways about how we can be part
of a stronger coalition. Since his release in
2003, he’s spent time with years of self-taught
legal expertise and community organizing skills. He’s on the board– sorry. I am so sorry. I just lost my place. He’s served on a number
of organizations’ board of directors,
including Family and Friends of Louisiana’s
Incarcerated Children and acts as board president
of Louisiana’s Center for Children’s Rights. And our last panelist
tonight is Brian Frank. He’s a San Francisco
native, and he’s focused on social
documentary projects across the Americas focused
on cultural identity, social inequality,
violence, workers’ rights, and the environment. He’s had tremendous
recognition– especially for his two-year
project, Downstream: Death of the Colorado. And he’s part of the permanent
collection in the United States Library of Congress. You can use Google to
find more of their work. These words don’t do
justice to what kinds of art they have put into the
world, and I’m really, really excited to turn it
over to Kristen, so we can get into the
good stuff of conversation. Don’t forget to write
your questions down. And at about 7:35,
we’re going to bring some of those questions
forward and give them to you, Kristen, so thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] KRISTEN MACK: Thank you, Gabe. We got to hear from Nikole
about how deeply personal the 1619 project is, and
we heard a little bit about your bios. But I want to hear
from you all directly, about how your work
is personal to you and how your pursuits
are personal to you. So why don’t we start here? JASON BOULWARE: Can I borrow– Sure. So I had an opportunity to
TA with a brilliant professor named Theresa Evan on the
social practices class. [INDIVIDUAL CHEER] Yeah, Theresa is amazing. And one of the first films that
she shows is called The Farm. And it’s about the
Angola prison and how the prison went from a
plantation to a prison almost overnight. And it really spoke to the heart
of the 13th Amendment forming. It’s just those few words– “Except for punishment
of a crime,” and that really rang true for me. After we began to
visit the IYC prison– and I got to really meet
the youth that are there And I got to spend time with
them and see their brilliance and see their engagement
and see their talent– really just kind of build
this affinity for them. And it becomes personal. You meet people on
a personal level. You share with them and
they share with you. And that never
really leaves you. And so it’s been personal
from day one for me. KRISTEN MACK: Brian? BRIAN FRANK: Sure. So for me personally I began
pursuing a criminal justice story about two
years ago, and I’ve been focused pretty
heavily on that. It began with me. I actually was doing a project
about inmate firefighters, but I ended up at
a juvenile camp. And I was about to
have a young boy. And it was a kind of a
crazy period in my life and I started seeing
myself in these guys that were locked up in the
last juvenile labor camp in California. And the reason I
saw myself in them was because I was incarcerated
as a juvenile myself, and that wasn’t something I
was even comfortable sharing until recently. But I didn’t want– I started thinking
about this boy that I was bringing
into the world. And I started thinking
about my decisions and how I didn’t want my son
to be caught in the same traps that I was caught in and
that all of these young men had been caught in. And so for me this
work’s very personal, and it’s been something that has
given me a voice and an ability to speak out about some of the
injustices that I have faced and the things that I’ve
learned through being caught under the boot of the
criminal justice system myself. KRISTEN MACK: How
does that allow you to connect with
the people who you are engaged in with your work? BRIAN FRANK: One of
the things when I first went to the juvenile
camp especially was the guards thought
that they were going to have to worry about me. And it took a matter
of minutes before I was kind of connecting on a very
personal level with these guys, because we had similar
shared experiences. It allows me to connect
because I get it. I know the pain. I know what it’s like to
call my mom from jail. I know what it’s like
to have that trauma like affect my view of
everything around me. And I think that
that’s something that you can’t make up. And people that I work with,
they know that immediately when they meet me. NORRIS HENDERSON: For me,
my personal experience was my experience, right? [INAUDIBLE] being incarcerated. In that farm, I’m in that
documentary, The Farm, and being on this
plantation and– listening as Nikole
talked, I was just kind of reflecting of all the
things that we experienced in that environment. And so, one of the things that
I was shared with some folks yesterday in Stateville’s is
that I do this work primary because of that experience. It was because of that negative
experience that I do this work, and this has become
my life’s work. And it’s primary
because I don’t want to see nobody ever will
have to experience what an incarceration looks like. I don’t care if
it’s for 10 minutes. I don’t think nobody
needs to be in a cage and, literally,
thrown away and just being cast away, that
you have no value. And so, the work I do
is kind of like to raise the voices of not just folks
incarcerated, but formerly incarcerated folks
across this country and to demonstrate to
people what our worth is. It’s kind of like
with again when Nikole was saying
about this struggle for us starting a
long time ago, and it manifested in different
iterations of everything. But for anybody who have
ever seen The Farm or saw Lester Holt’s piece
about life in prison. It’s still a plantation. It’s still a
plantation, so it all– folks get mesmerized
by the fact that– what incarceration
look like today. It’s still slavery,
just by another name. [INAUDIBLE] SARAH ROSS: For me, I feel like
I came to this through doing domestic violence work. I had worked with women,
often sex workers, between art schools. And so, in that time, I became
really interested in what how– like the
role representation in producing criminalization. And also as a white
woman, I became clearly aware of how
white women, the figure of white women is incredibly
important in this history of producing criminalization. And so I think that a series
of work around those issues made me think a lot about
the role of incarceration as it relates to the
figure of white women. And, in particularly,
how it plays out in terms of domestic violence. You can chart these
history of laws around domestic violence
that seek to lock up people longer and longer,
but don’t actually address issues of harm. So this is why I’m
continuing, yeah. KRISTEN MACK: The
1619 project was intended as a re-framing
of our country’s history, a corrective force
that recognizes 1619 as our true founding. The arts, journalism,
and social movements are powerful tools in
shifting narratives. How do each of you,
through your work, ask people to re-evaluate
the stories and narratives that they’ve been told? Sarah, why don’t
we start with you/ SARAH ROSS: Well,
I think that I do that most with many
other people who I work with as part of PNAP. By collaborating
with folks inside to tell their own stories. And then trying to connect
those stories to policy and movements happening
outside of prison. And I think that one thing
that we are reminded of often is that the stories
are actually out there. People’s moms have
been fighting for them since they’ve been locked up. You can listen to R&B music and
rap music and poetry and art, and see for so long
people have been narrating the crisis of incarceration. So I think that part
of our work also, too, is to think about
how our stories are heard. what kinds of gatekeeping is
happening that delegitimizes those stories? And how we need to
really sort of bust open those gates to
see that work as work that we need to listen
to and we need to hear, in order to make changes. KRISTEN MACK: Say more
about that, the gatekeeping. SARAH ROSS: Well [CHUCKLES]
there’s so much to say. I mean, I think
that in the last– I would say in
the last 15 years, there’s an explosion of
books, the academic texts around incarceration,
and I’ve even heard people say something
like, of course, there’s this crisis of incarceration,
that 2 million people are locked up. And, why didn’t we
about it before. But people were saying
things all along. And so, I think that it’s like
in the Academy, in journalism, and other forms that actually– hearing and giving space, and
listening to people in struggle has not happened. So in particular,
I can say something about the work around the
survivors of police torture. For years their parents and
people in the neighborhoods were talking about the
torture that was happening. For years. And because no one
did anything, that went on for 20 years and more
and more people were tortured. And still we have
this long legacy of police violence in the city. So I think that it really
is incumbent upon us– educators, et cetera– to
look outside of sort of maybe what we might understand is like
formal institutional writing, et cetera, to seek stories
that can really teach us from many, many points of view. JASON BOULWARE: I just want
to jump on that a little bit. One of the great
things about the school is that it’s so international. And so, my class is
typically full of people that are from not only Chicago,
but London and China and South Korea. And in our class,
where we’re talking about mass incarceration and
we’re wrestling with it– and I feel like it’s
important to have these conversations with
an international body, so they know that we
are dealing with this. We’re trying to have
these conversations. Though they are difficult,
they need to be had. And I think having them
in the classroom, where you have an open space, where
you can understand where are you know people coming from
and why there’s so much strife, and then things. The classroom in an
international body setting has been really helpful in terms
of getting that conversation, that dialogue going. KRISTEN MACK: And did
you want say something before I ask another
question Norris? NORRIS HENDERSON: I think one
of the real narrative shift is that language itself. And it’s particularly around
folks who have been in prison. The language for years has
been ex-convict, ex-felon. And so a friend of mine, Eddie
Ellis, coined [INAUDIBLE].. And he asks people not to
address us in that manner. And so we adopted this
phrase of formerly incarcerated to humanize people. You’re just people
who’ve come in contact with the criminal
justice system. And really that language
is shifting now, because people are
saying people have come in contact with the
criminal unjust system. And people are
starting acknowledge that now, and for years people
wouldn’t acknowledge that. And I real appreciate
what Sarah was just saying about how people’s
families have been struggling for years, being that voice
in the wilderness, crying out, something unjust has
happened to my family member. And we’ve all turned a deaf ear. But now because it’s
happening so frequently, people are becoming appalled
at how this system has actually operated. And I’m kind of
reminded– this morning I was reading an article. Yesterday the United
States Supreme Court was hearing a case
out of Louisiana about non-unanimous
jury verdicts. This has been on the books
in Louisiana since the 1890s. It’s kind of like Jim
crow’s last stand. But it was all
built on racism, , to take away the power of
black people in the state of Louisiana. So when Nikole was talking,
I was just listening, saying, all these dots are
still connecting, but now people are listening. The person who acts the
most profound question yesterday of the justices,
was Brett Kavanaugh. And he asks the
Solicitor General from Louisiana, who was
arguing that, if you are rule this thing
unconstitutional, 35,000 people are going
to get out of prison. And he was questioning,
well, what’s more valuable, upholding this racist law– and he owned that– that this was born
out of racism. When this law was put in place,
our constitution literally said that we’re
creating this law to maintain the white
supremacy in this state. And so, if you think
of all the peoples, there’s 100,000 African-American
registered voters. Soon as the
Constitution changed, it dropped down to 10,000– and then we became invisible. Because it didn’t matter if
we had the right to serve on a jury, because two or one
of y’all, wouldn’t even make a difference. Because those 10 white folks,
once they voted, it was a rap. And so, it’s how we are kind
of like starting really now to acknowledge the injustices
that this country has brought to bear. And I’m excited. When Sarah calls out this
thing about the privilege that white women
have in America– [APPLAUSE] –it’s that it’s
hard for anything to change, until white women
get in front of it. And so, when this
question comes up about how the narrative
shift has to happen, people got to own this. I don’t care how much Nikole
push out this theory of 1619, somebody going to say she’s
just an angry black woman. But until white folks start
owning this history, about what they stood by and
watched happen to us, is when this whole narrative
is going to change. And so this has got to
be a collective process. This is not going to
be the advocates who’ve been impacted by these
systems, the historians telling their history. And one thing she kept
saying was, she just kept talking about truth. And one of my mentors
always told me that truth has a way of
finding favor or disfavor. Some people hear the truth,
they’re going to applaud. Some people hear
that same truth, and they don’t get
rocks in they drawers. And so that’s what we
have to start doing. We have to own the truth,
be it for us or against us. And that’s when we
don’t start having this narrative shift in the
way that we need it to happen. [APPLAUSE] BRIAN FRANK: One of
the ways that I’ve tried to approach the
narrative that I see, which is one full
of stereotypes, is basically just
by photographing folks that are
incarcerated as if they are normal people like you and me. And that sounds
really basic, but you would be amazed when I go
into classrooms, for instance, and ask students, what do you
think of when I say inmate or convict, right, when I use
these powerful negative words, and they consistently
regurgitate the same stereotypical visuals. And when I hear
those words, even though I don’t think
that way, I still think of these negative
images right away because I’ve been so indoctrinated, right? So visually, I just try to
work with folks as though they are folks like you
and me, and that’s the main thing I
try to do visually to change that
narrative about what it means to be incarcerated. There’s all kinds of folks
that are incarcerated. You know what I mean? And the other thing
that I try to do to change the narrative
a little bit where I can is to work with people that are
either incarcerated or formerly incarcerated in
order to learn how to tell their own stories
because something that I think is part of the
problem is this just colonial history of journalism,
where we parachute into places, tell stories from a colonial
and racist perspective, from a neighborhood that
we know nothing about, and then we just get the same
nonsense over and over again. So to teach folks to
tell their own stories has been just something that
I have tried to do firsthand. KRISTEN MACK: I think
you all have each touched on this a little bit,
and if you can speak to it more if you like, is this notion
of how you center the people whose stories you are
telling in your work, how you think about that
as you are telling stories and how you put people’s
lived experiences at the center of your work. Again, you each spoke
to it a little bit, but if there’s
something more you would like to say about that. SARAH ROSS: I’ll say
something, and that is the basis of the project
Prison & Neighborhood, our arts project, when
we got started was both to work with folks
inside to tell stories, but also to do it in a
collaborative manner, which is not to say not to
center folks’ voice, but rather to try to bring
different experiences into the room and
make work that can be shown in different contexts. And I think that through
that collaboration, there’s a learning
on both sides, and then that’s been
a really important way to transform the work. But also, too, one of
the things that I know– I might get in trouble
for saying this, but I feel like
one of the things that I know is that
sometimes there’s exhibitions in the world that
is like “artwork made by people in prison,” which is great. Love it, but that’s not
what we wanted to do. We actually wanted to build work
that was made collaboratively by researching topics together
and producing knowledge from the inside to share with folks
on the outside because we were worried and thought critically
that work that was “art by people in prison” would
continue to isolate people there, right, and instead
to think more like poetry by people in prison or
scholarly writing by scholars– there’s tons of
scholars in prison– should be in any journal. It should be alongside my work
and your work and your work, and to really foreground
that because we really were trying to think
critically about how when you go into a
prison to teach a class, it’s just easy for that
work to stay there. So how does it
get into the world and get into the world in a
way that is not continually isolated and marginalized. NORRIS HENDERSON: I was with
Sarah yesterday and stayed there in her class, and
I think one of the things about how we center
those voices is we’ve got to allow those
voices to be heard. A lot of the time, we
smother those voices by suggesting to folks
what’s best for them. And just like
you’re saying again, it’s like hearing people,
encouraging people to tell their story. People have been
marginalized for so long, they’re afraid to tell
their story because they’ve been told, nobody wants
to hear your voice. And so the challenge
of centering them, my encouragement to all of them,
like I told the guys yesterday, no successful movement
in this country was successful without the
voices of the people who were directly impacted. We’re not going to change mass
incarceration in this country without the voices
of people who have been impacted by this system. They have the narrative. They can tell the story. They can collectivize
their stories. The story from Chicago and
the story from New Orleans, it’s all the same. When I was in that classroom
yesterday in Stateville, there were different faces,
but those voices was folks that I left in Angola. It’s the same narrative. The thing is that
folks from behind them walls and folks in the
street are just left meeting with the Chicago 400. Those folks seem
invisible to people because nobody wants
to center their voice. The folks who are working
directly with them wants to center their
voices, but nobody there’s to help center their voices
because there’s always that stigma attached,
like he’s saying, oh, that’s the ex-con,
that’s the felon, oh, that’s the guy
that’s on the register. We have to stop
seeing people based upon that single worst thing
they ever done in your life. Because I guarantee you, if
I asked people in this room to raise their hand
about something they’d done that
they’re not proud of, I guarantee it’d be
standing room only. And I see the nods in
the crowd, and so we can’t suppress people’s
voices based upon– ask the other guys
in the prison, there’s a complaint
every day about wanting to throw somebody
else under the bus, and I would literally
say, ain’t nobody in this prison for slipping
on a banana peeling. Nobody. So the pot can’t call
the skillet black. And I think until
we allow people to kind of like start
speaking in their own voices– there was some talented
young men I met yesterday. And for us to
always refer to them as that this is the art
that’s coming out of prison, no, The only thing that prison
do– solitude breeds thinkers. There’s a lot of thinkers
behind these walls, folks with a lot, a lot of
talent that just not given the opportunity,
afforded the opportunity, to elevate their voice. And even for folks who
work on their behalf, I used to tell people
all the time, people say, I want to help you, and I used
to ask them, define help to me. What is help? And they’d say, you
know, we want to do this. That’s not the help. Help is what I need, not
what you want to give me. JASON BOULWARE: Right. [APPLAUSE] NORRIS HENDERSON: That’s what
we have to always be mindful of. So when we are
lifting the voices, and centering our folks,
it’s the help that they need, not what we want to give. JASON BOULWARE: I
think just to piggyback on that, what’s nice about
working in IYC, this youth facility, is that we’re able
to provide a way for youth to amplify their voices
when they’re on the outside. So we work on projects inside
together as a collaboration, but more than that,
we’re trying to teach youth ways to amplify their
voice when they’re outside. So when we’re in and
we’re talking about, here’s how to use cameras and
sound equipment and whatnot, when they’re outside, they’re
not, I just got out IYC, it’s, I’m trying to work to be a
sound engineer, I’m a director. Right? These are the titles
we want them to embody and not just, I just got
recently released from IYC, because that only is going
to get them back into IYC. And I feel like if we’re
able to provide tools that are useful to them that they
can understand how to use and how to tell this story
to a larger audience, I feel like that’s when
you start to see change at the community level. NORRIS HENDERSON: That’s right. BRIAN FRANK: So
it takes a couple of things I think to
center and amplify some of these voices
of the young men that I generally work with. The first is follow through. I have to be able to
keep working with guys that all have special
unique needs, honestly, and take the time to
not only be an educator, but to be a friend and a mentor. That’s one thing I have to do. And the other thing is that
it takes collaboration, it takes partnerships. It’s one thing for me to
go and teach a workshop and that’s great, and I think
that is absolutely valuable to work with people that
maybe have just never been told that they’re talented
and amazing at something and they are, and just that
simple act maybe just is something good for them, but
also to not only do that, but to follow through
and get those voices out in the world, which is honestly
the really hard part sometimes. I’ve worked with a
couple of my students to get their work
published, right? That is the hardest
part of the battle. There’s still
entrenched gatekeepers. We talked a little bit
about the gatekeepers. There’s people that are at
journalism institutions that are terrified by
change, honestly, and it’s scary to
bring these voices that are outside of the fold. Even if these folks mean
well at the highest levels of journalism institutions,
even if journalism institutions are diversifying
at the lower ranks, they’re not diversifying at
those higher ranks, and so those decisions,
it still ends up being an archaic
system in a lot of ways and they don’t want to change. But there are people
fighting that fight inside of publications,
and I just think it’s important
to get those voices, you have to get those
voices out there into the mainstream media, too,
so that these new voices can be heard. KRISTEN MACK: So
Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of
the Equal Justice Initiative and a MacArthur fellow, wrote
a piece in the 1619 Project connecting slavery to today’s
system of mass incarceration. The headline of his piece
was “Slavery Gave America a Fear of Black People and a
Taste for Violent Punishment. Both Still Define Our
Criminal Justice System.” The piece is powerful. If you haven’t read
it, I encourage you to. I’m going to give you
a quick excerpt that will frame my next question. So he wrote, “Laws governing
slavery were replaced with black codes governing
free black people, making the criminal justice system
central to new strategies of racial control. Hundreds of years after the
arrival of enslaved Africans, a presumption of
danger and criminality still follows black
people everywhere. New language has emerged for
non-crimes that have replaced black codes– driving while black,
sleeping while black, sitting in a coffee
shop while black. Inside courtrooms, the
problem gets worse. Racial disparities in sentencing
are found in almost every crime category. Black defendants
are 22 times more likely to receive the death
penalty for crimes whose victims are white
rather than black, a type of bias the Supreme
Court has declared inevitable.” So let’s take a quick
step back and think about the title of today’s
program “Struggle for Justice– 1619 and the Changing Narrative
on Mass Incarceration.” I’m sure if I asked each of
you what the narrative is on mass incarceration
today, you probably would have a different answer. So rather than
ask that question, I’m going to ask it this way. Is the narrative
really changing? NORRIS HENDERSON: It
is starting to shift, and it’s starting to shift
because of people like Bryan. And I think the reason it’s
starting to shift because Bryan challenges people. Bryan challenges
people to be proximate, to be close to the problem. You can’t solve the problem
or even resolve the problem if you’re not close to it. You don’t recognize it. And I encourage
everybody in this room, if you haven’t been
to the legacy museum, you need to go because that’s
a walk through history. And when Nikole was
talking about that county in Mississippi, to see those
images with all those names on them and realizing
this was man inhumanity to man and to have to
be, again, close to it, the narrative is shifting. Because my first thought when
I went there, I was like, hmm, Montgomery, Alabama, Bryan,
you pull off wing-ding duty here. Really. I’m from the South,
so I’m like, I don’t know how them white
folks let you do this. This is like in their face. This is literally in their face. But the real challenge is
that for every monument that’s hanging, there’s one outside. And this challenge is for all
these places where y’all done killed these people,
come and get your baggage because here’s one outside
that you can kind of like, you want to memorialize
these things with Confederate monuments and stuff,
come and get this. So the narrative is shifting. I mean, Michelle kind
like started the ball with the new Jim Crow. Everybody’s picking up on it. And I would venture
to say that 1619 is going to make people dig
a little deeper because this is the history lesson. Everything else is kind
of like in our lifetime. This was before our lifetime,
but this kind of like set the tempo for
where we’re at today. So I trust that the narrative,
that the pendulum [WHISTLES] kind of like moves. I’ll give you a
different example of how I think the narrative
is really shifting. There’s a group or former
incarcerated folks, of which I am one, that
we’re hosting a town hall, presidential
town hall two weeks from now in Philadelphia
inside of a prison. So if that ain’t a narrative
shift, I don’t know what is. [APPLAUSE] That directly impacted people
from top to bottom is running this show, that paid for
it out of our pockets, and so that is a shift in
the sense of y’all talking to everybody about everything. But if you’re going to talk
about criminal justice, you need to talk to people
who’ve been impacted by this system and by the rule of law
that y’all have put in place. And so I believe honestly
that it’s shifting, but it’s going to take a lot of
heavy lifting from folks like y’all in the room. Folks in this room are
connected to a lot of folks, and it’s going to take us
educating those folks we’re connected to about why
we stand in the spaces that we stand in it, why we
take the positions that we take, and to be supportive of the work
that is going on with educating these juveniles in prison,
educating these adults that’s in prison, but even
question why in some places, like in Stateville, they
don’t even want to educate the people in prison. And so the narrative
has to shift in the way about put myself
in that position. If I was there, what
would I want to happen? And so I think the
shift is happening. This is a part of the shift. This event is a narrative shift. This wouldn’t have probably
happened 10 years ago, the collaboration of
this event happening. And so it’s moving,
and so sometimes we look for that monumental
moment and say, oh, it happened on this particular day. No, this thing ebbs and flows. And we’re going to
wake up one morning, and we’re going to realize, you
know what, man, we’ve done it. So the narrative
shift is happening. Sometimes people are like,
it’s not happening fast enough. But trust me, it took us 400
years to get where we at. We ain’t going to
change this overnight. But until we start having
these conversations– and I call them CBAs,
the corrective behavior conversations– until we start having
them corrective behavior conversations with each
other and with folks who’s position may be totally
in opposite to us is when the narrative
shift starts to happen. JASON BOULWARE: I think the
other part of that shift is not just the people that are
going into facilities to work, but the people that are working
in facilities every day. I’m fortunate I have people
like Michael Byrd and Tom Hurley here who work
in this youth facility, and it’s their efforts in seeing
the best in these guys that’s really going to shift the
true nature of the narrative. And I think it’s
the work every day that they’re doing that
really has long-term effects, reaching guys and
saying, you know what, I know that you’re
better than this, right? I’m going to hold you
to a higher standard because I believe that you
are a good and solid man who can make a positive
impact on your community. And without those voices
in those facilities, I don’t think that we’ve seen
the movement that we have. It’s people like them that
are making things possible. KRISTEN MACK: What about on
the other end with the formerly incarcerated coming
out and their role in that conversation? I didn’t mean to interrupt
what you were about to say. SARAH ROSS: I feel like
Norris can speak more to that. But also, too, in Chicago,
we have an amazing group of people in the city who
are formerly incarcerated who are doing really
important policy work and work in neighborhoods, so
I’m grateful to know some of those people and
really learn from them. But I also want to just lift
up one sort of term and history that Critical Resistance
has put forward, and that is the
idea of abolition. And really, it’s, I
think, black feminists that have really articulated
this and led the way in shaping what that means. And I think that you can get
some clicks in the room– yay, abolition– but I think
that what it also means is that it’s about building
up our community so that people have
resources, so when harm happens that we have places
to go and ways to solve harm. Because sort of back to the
domestic violence issues, in the ’90s, we put
all these resources, the crime bill put all these
resources to the Violence Against Women Act,
which is good, but it also gave all these
resources to policing, which police are not trained
to deal with harm, right? They’re really not trained to
deal with the kinds of harm that we’re asking
them to deal with. And even our prosecutor Kim
Fox said this very thing, that her office is
dealing with things that are not real crimes, right? It’s like, there’s
much deeper problems there, like drug addiction,
like mental health issues. And so I think that the
narrative change can also include abolition, which
is about building up our communities and
funding resources so that we’re not
relying on punishment systems as a solutions to harm. BRIAN FRANK: I’ve definitely,
definitely seen the narrative shift pretty drastically,
I think, in the last couple of years alone. I wouldn’t have been comfortable
sharing my stories of dealings with the criminal justice
system until recently, honestly, and I think that has been due
to an attitude shift in general just in the public in
general and seeing people being able to understand
that I honestly was a victim of the criminal
justice system myself. And instead of being
ostracized immediately and being labeled as other
and someone different because of things that I did when
I was a child, honestly, that’s been a drastic
shift recently. And I’ve seen other
shifts because I go into different
institutions all the time, and when I had gone into
institutions previous, I would have one-on-one
conversations with folks and they would be very guarded
about maybe things that were seen as too
progressive, words that were too progressive,
like ideas that were too progressive in that facility. And just in the
last few years, I’ve seen folks just be
like, hey, man, this is actually how it is,
like we need to be more positive in here with folks. And I’ve really
seen that firsthand. So that is actually one of
the most positive things that I have to say about
the criminal justice system is that I do see
change happening as we speak. KRISTEN MACK:
Sarah, can you touch on the idea of
restorative justice and what role that plays in this
conversation for the struggle for justice, and in
particular, something that you touched on a little
bit earlier about racial healing as part of this conversation? I know that’s a lot. SARAH ROSS: Well,
it is because I don’t practice
restorative justice, but I know it from afar. And it is a practice
that’s been put into place in some of the
juvenile justice facilities and also in schools, and I
think that the attempt there is to work with people to get
a sense of accountability. I think that anything that’s
going to divert resources from punishment as solutions to
harm would be a starting point. There’s people who are also
practicing transformant, there’s all kinds
of words in here that have differences that are
really important in particular. And people like Mariame Kaba– who used to live
here in Chicago, but now lives in New York– really dives deep into
what transformative justice looks like and how those
community processes are long and take
time, and it’s kind of just the opposite of what the
criminal justice system does. People who are sitting in
Cook County right now waiting for their trial, I’m
sure they would totally disagree with me,
because there’s ways in which the criminal
legal system is slow and brutal. But also real healing
practices are slow and take time and attention. And I think that
any kind of work that we’re talking
about here has to be racial healing
or racial justice. I don’t even know if I can say
the word “healing” because how do you heal from this? So I think that maybe
it’s a reckoning. I’m not sure what
the language is. I don’t know that I’m
the person to say. But I think that
it has to be you can’t go into a class
in Stateville Prison and wonder if this is
not a racial project. You know. There’s probably no
other college class in the city of
Chicago that is all black men except for in
prison, and that’s a problem. That’s a tragedy, right? And so I think that
Nikole’s work is so, all her work around
education reporting, has just been so
really important to me, and the 1619 Project
sort of brings that home. And I think that kind of history
is a start to think about. Like I said, I’m not
sure if it’s healing, but a kind of reckoning. KRISTEN MACK: Just
a quick reminder. If you want to
submit a question, that they will be
collecting them. And we’re going to start our
Q&A in a few minutes here, so please feel free to
pass them to the aisle if you’d like to ask our
panelists any questions. Does anyone else want
to speak to that notion of restorative
justice and healing? JASON BOULWARE: I think a
lot starts with the youth. I think in order to
heal in the community, you have to heal
the youth, and I think that begins
with acknowledging that there is a trauma. And one of the things
that I’ve always appreciated about
the IYC facility is that they acknowledge
that, and they have people on site that are
counselors and therapists and they’re trying
to acknowledge this trauma that’s happened. And I think that once
you kind of acknowledge that and you begin
to deal with it, then you can have
some sense of healing. And it’s something that
I think IYC is proud of and I’m proud of as well. NORRIS HENDERSON: I think the
piece about the healing part is about how people envision
people who have been harmed, because most folks who are in
prison have harmed somebody, but most of them
have been harmed. And I remember year
before last right after the Miller decision,
Miller v Alabama, when it created parole
eligibility for juveniles, I was testifying at
a senate hearing. We were there for three hours,
and one of the legislators got frustrated
because he was like, everybody talking about
this, this, this, and this, and I ain’t heard one person
say anything about the victim. And so I raised my hand. He was like, come on if you
got something to say, you know, in a kind of arrogant way. And when I sit down,
I said, first of all, I need to ask you, what
does a victim look like? And, you know, all
white men, and they were kind of like had this kind
of peculiar look on his face. And then I started
telling the story and I told the
story about I lost a son and a future
daughter-in-law in a domestic situation where
a former boyfriend killed both of them, but I’m here today
because in a fair and just society, we can’t base laws on
the way we feel at the worst moment of our life. And it took all the
air out the room because, first,
they didn’t see me as being a victim of anything. And so I think that’s how we
approach this healing piece about who needs to be healed. We don’t have
clinics in the hood. We can’t afford to go
lay on somebody’s sofa. I tell people all the
time, I’m OK if you’re OK, but I ain’t never
laid on nobody’s sofa. And I know that almost 30
years done something to me, but nobody didn’t
say, hey, welcome to my sofa, let’s
talk about this. So the healing is
really left up to us to try to heal ourselves,
try to heal people, or reconcile with
the harm that’s been caused to us, the
harm that some of us have caused to other people. And so I just try
to suggest to people all the time is that,
to me, it’s simple. When you look in the
mirror in the morning, nobody leaves out
the mirror before you reconcile with what they see. If your lipstick’s
not straight, you’re not leaving out that mirror. If your eyelashes not straight,
your hair not straight, you’re not leaving
out the mirror, and that’s the same thing
with this hurt and this harm that we feel. We got to reckon
with that, but we have to reconcile with it
within ourselves first. And then once we heal
ourselves, then we can kind of be in the position
to help other people heal, extend that hand to them. But it kind of like
what it looks like, what this healing
process looks like, and who are people
willing to help heal? Because people coming
out of prison, yeah, I want people to
get out of prison, but people just can’t
walk out the door because people bringing
all that trauma with them that has never been addressed. And when something
happened, somebody say, oh, I told you they
didn’t learn their lesson. But nobody’s done anything
to help them heal. And so we got to find
the way that we reconcile with how we deal with
things in our communities and what that
healing looks like. When I was a little kid,
everybody in the neighborhood had carte blanche. If they saw me doing something
I had no business doing, touch me up, send me home. And they would call ahead
of time, I touched him up, I’m sending him home. And when I got to
the door, my grandma was in the door with a belt.
You see what I’m saying? But that was kind of
like the value added that somebody saw something
in us to kind of try to help right us. But I don’t see people caring
enough about folks now. This is a cold town, and I’m
not talking about cold because of the weather. I come out the South,
you pass people, it’s good morning, good
evening, yes ma’am, no sir, how you doing? I’ve been passing people
walking every day, and I’d be like, good morning,
and people look at me, I know he’s not from here. I mean, I’ve been
in close proximity with people in the elevator,
and I’m like, good morning. And I’m like, you ain’t
got nowhere to run, you need to speak to me. And these folks
wouldn’t say anything. I’m like, OK, I
got it, I got it. But so it’s just how we have
been conditioned over time to do the little simplest
things of these courtesies to each other that start
these healing processes, going into spaces where
you know there’s trauma. Like I said again,
little kids don’t know that you were impacted. You were kind of
like in a minute– I don’t even know if
I want to share this, but the minute you
did that you feel good and they felt good now
because here’s somebody that identifies with us 100%. The effort that y’all put in
with changing their language about when you come out, this
is how you present yourself, all that is a part of
healing and helping people. Because one of the
things with folks is that folks feel bad
about what they have done and they don’t know how to
step back into spaces and say, I’m sorry. Because in most
places, I go to a lot of parole important
hearings, and the first thing I hear the crime survivors
say, well, he never said he was sorry. And then you have to
remind them that there is a law on the books that say
if he get in contact with you, he’s going to get
some more time. And then when those
crime survivors hear that, it kind of just
breaks them all the way down because they realize here’s
somebody who wanted to say “I’m sorry” 30 years ago and this
is the first opportunity they ever got. And so we have to kind
of educate ourselves about what this looked like
and what we are looking for. Are we looking for somebody
just to say “I’m sorry”? Are we looking for somebody,
a restitution from people? We need to let people know what
is that expectation up there. KRISTEN MACK: So we’ve talked
a little bit about harm and trauma and healing. We haven’t talked
about accountability and what accountability looks
like on both sides of the coin, and in particular, what
accountability looks like. So we touched on the fact
that the criminal justice system and those who
are leading that work aren’t necessarily trained to
talk about trauma and healing, et cetera, but what
about the role that they play in terms of accountability
and their accountability to the people who
they are serving, the people who are most
impacted by the justice system? What does that look like
in terms of the role that they play in
accountability? Brian. BRIAN FRANK: That’s a hard one. I think that, to me,
what accountability looks like is that, OK, one of
the recurring themes that I see across the board in any
institution that I work in, whether it’s a
juvenile facility, an adult male facility,
or a women’s facility, is that there are people
that just need mental health help and a lot of people
that need mental health help. And honestly, the
folks that work in these prisons
as administrators have had this dumped in
their lap in a lot of cases, and they know they’re not
equipped to deal with that because they don’t
have the resources. So, I mean, the first thing
that comes to mind with me is that as a society,
we have to stop trying to deal with mental
health problems inside of prison walls. We have to get help for
folks on the outside. [APPLAUSE] And until we start
doing that, we’re just going to keep
having these issues. SARAH ROSS: Thanks. Norris is reminding me of a
conversation we had yesterday at Stateville, but it
also brought me back to a conversation I had
maybe 10 or more years ago with a group of folks
at Danville Prison. I was teaching a community
college class there, and somebody asked me to
start a reading group. And so we started
reading books together, and they chose the
books, et cetera. But one thing that came up
in that reading group, which really was kind of like a seed
for me for many other things, is that people talked about
the structural barriers to being accountable
to people who they harmed because the
state doesn’t allow that. And so they talked about
how that even in the laws, it’s like the state that is
saying that they did something wrong, not even the person. They don’t get to hear
from the family members. And this man said,
I took someone’s son and I took someone’s father,
I need to apologize to them and I want my life
to be accountable going forward to this
person, but there’s no way. And so these kinds of things
are rife throughout the system, where so much is
removed from people that they’re not able to
articulate their autonomy and righting the harms. KRISTEN MACK: I’m going to ask
one final question before we open it up to the
audience Q&A, and that is, we talked a lot about the
conversation and narrative change, but how do we
actually measure progress, and how do we move from the
conversations and narrative change to actual policy
change and systemic change in the systems? JASON BOULWARE: That’s the
million dollar question right there. I think in the juvenile side,
with my experience, that’s the hardest one to overcome. Right now, we’re in a space
where, I’m calling it, we are in hope
without data, right? We tried to believe that
the things that we’re doing are making change because
we don’t have the data yet to back it up, and
a lot of that is because once youth are
released from a facility, though there is a kind
of a system in place, the two sides don’t
really talk to each other, so we don’t know how well
these youth are doing outside. And I feel like until we
can kind of bridge that gap and understand, OK, this
youth was released here and now he’s here,
he’s going to college, he’s doing this, this, and that,
until we have that kind of data to see how the youth are doing,
it’s a tough one to answer. But I think that’s
the place to start. I think it’s about getting data
on what happens after release and to see what’s
working and what’s not. NORRIS HENDERSON: And I
think for us in Louisiana, we have led the
nation per capita in incarceration for
the last 40 years. And then the last
year and a half, we’ve moved from number
one to number two, all through just one
legislative process with people acknowledging
the unjust laws that they have put in place. But it was based on data. It was based on this shop
coming in, the people from Pew came in, did an
assessment of all the DOC data about who we
actually had in prison and why they were there. And then people was like, oops,
the emperor has no clothes on, and then they were
able to reconcile with we’ve been putting people
in jail for willy nilly. And so that, to me,
is like it took us 40 years to get to that
spot, maybe longer than that, but in one legislative session,
we turned all of that around. And so that’s
progress in a sense because you can measure it. But like I was saying,
again, is that we are blessed in the sense
that we have relationship with the Department
of Corrections that there was a shared data. Because if somebody
does something, they’re going to
get blamed for it, so it’s advantageous to them
to help those people succeed. And so we’re able to
help them track people that get out about this is
what this person is doing three, four, five years later. Probation as parole has
become really user friendly in a sense of as
opposed to always looking to people to
put them back in jail, they’re looking to keep
people out of jail. And so to me, that
is like a sea change because that wasn’t
their role long ago. They were just like
the auxiliary cops. But now they’re
actually people who are trying to provide
services for people to help people
sustain themselves once they’re released. But that’s not
happening nationally, that’s just happening in the
little one-horse town I’m from. And Louisiana is a small state,
4 and 1/2 million people, so you blink, you done
passed through us. But in comparison, if we
can do that in the South in a place that’s always showing
up 49 or 50 in every category, certainly places that’s
more progressive than we are should be able to
start seeing change and start to demand change. I tell people, we got to stop
showing up with hat in hand, give me, let me, can you spare. We got to start making
demands on the system that it actually do
the things that– I ain’t going to
say the thing it was designed to do because
it’s doing that perfectly well, but the things that
we need it to do. But that only is going to come
if we start making demands upon the system. [APPLAUSE] KRISTEN MACK: I’d like to
invite Nikole to join us onstage for the Q&A. [APPLAUSE] So our first question
from the audience is, “I recently read a story
in the Chicago Tribune about how certain
prisons in the state banned certain books
that inmates could read and limited the number
of books to three that could be kept by inmates. What can be done about this? No education, no
rehabilitation.” SARAH ROSS: Well, there’s
a campaign we’re starting, and you can do that. So yeah, so basically,
the state of Illinois spent 300 some dollars
last year on books for the whole
entire state, which is 25 state prisons,
adult state prisons, and the legislature took
out books out of the budget, I think, back in 2002. Now people have to have
law books because there’s a federal law, but
books themselves have been hard to
find in prison. And it’s really through
volunteer groups like Books to Prisoners and
education projects that have been getting books in,
and families, largely families. Several years ago,
we did a survey of all the librarians
in state prisons and we asked where they
got their books from, and it was often from
folks inside prison. They would donate
books to the library. And so in the summer,
Danville Correctional Center, which is outside of
Champaign-Urbana, took out about 200 books
out of their prison library. They were all African-American
history reentry books, et cetera, and there
is a legislative hearing this summer, later in
the summer, about it. And from that, we are starting
a campaign called Freedom to Learn, and censorship of
books is just one piece of it because we do have an issue
in the state of Illinois where access to
education and prison is pretty uneven
across the state. Also, too, there’s basic
things like formerly incarcerated people
who have PhDs and amazing credentials
can’t come back in and teach. It’s up to the warden
at each prison. This is ridiculous. These are the
people that actually should and want to be back in
there to support folks inside. Other rules are that
when people get out and they’re on
probation or parole– actually we don’t have parole
in the state of Illinois, so I want to erase
what I just said. We have something called
“mandatory supervised release.” We don’t have parole, so people
have sentences of 35 years, they have to do all 35. But people, when they get out,
they could be going to college, but they don’t get any
sort of good time off of their mandatory
supervised release. So it’s those kinds of sort
of pieces of legislation we’re hoping to move with
the Department of Corrections through administrative
directives collaboratively, or if that can’t happen, then
through a legislative process. So we’re working on it. If you want to know more, go to
the freedomtolearn.net website. That’s a good plug. Thanks, whoever
asked that question. KRISTEN MACK: “How do you
envision art should or can be used to open access to
folks of limited literacy? Thinking of my
sharecropper turned factory worker granddad.” BRIAN FRANK: Well, I think
something that always amazes me anytime that I end
up, for instance, when I’ve been
working with Jason, is the incredible visual
literacy that the students have that we work with. And I have found that, in
general, and it’s cliche, but art is a universal
language that folks, no matter what background
they come from, it’s something that
they can understand and it’s something that affects
them in an emotional manner. So I think the arts
is, to me, it’s the most powerful
way that we can all speak the same language. SARAH ROSS: Can
I ask a question? Sorry. Nikole, you included poetry by
really beautiful amazing poets in your piece, and
I was just wondering if maybe that question,
like how that came about as using art in that work. NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Sure. NORRIS HENDERSON: [INAUDIBLE] SARAH ROSS: Sorry. NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I didn’t
plug her either to do that. Art is definitely not
my area of expertise. The idea to do
the creative works actually came from the
editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, whose
own father is a poet. And it really came
out of conversations we were having about
how black Americans are the only group in
the history of our nation for whom it was at one time
illegal to read and write and what that means
about the ability to have a written
record of so many things that happen to black
people throughout history, where if there is
a written record, it’s been written
by white people. And so the idea
kind of came that we could reimagine
these moments in time and allow black
people to tell stories where often we were not
allowed to have a written record of them. So part of the project is
also original works of art also by black artists
to illustrate– every piece in the
magazine is illustrated by an original piece of
art that we commissioned to go with the piece,
and all of them together are telling
a story, both visually and in terms of
the word, but also in terms of the
contributors, that it was the descendents of the
enslaved who were contributing all of these pieces and the fact
that they were in a position to be amongst the
most [INAUDIBLE] writers, the most [INAUDIBLE]
artists of our time. It also spoke to the
ascendancy, and we hope that that would send an
empowering message as well. KRISTEN MACK: It definitely did. So the next question is, “How
do we change the narrative in a way that shifts more power
to the most impacted people, especially in a world where
even stories are being monetized and plundered for profit?” [LAUGHTER] NORRIS HENDERSON: Will
you repeat the question? KRISTEN MACK: Yes, sir. “How do we change the
narrative in a way that shifts more power to the
most impacted people, especially in a world where
even stories are being monetized and plundered for profit?” NORRIS HENDERSON: Well,
I think one of the things is kind of like
what’s going on now. Folks are disinvesting
in things that are taking advantage of
the people’s history, and I think that’s
one of the things. Our people have
built everything. I mean, this country was
built on the backs of folks who labored long and hard. When you think about
Nikole’s project, 20 people, but you look at
what this country has built from 20 people. And so it’s how we
literally kind of like start shifting that
frame and questioning. People investing a lot of
the things is like, OK, what are you actually
investing my dollars in? Is my dollars being invested
to keep this system going the way it’s going? Like in the prison industry,
the telephone company, the telephone company’s making
real money off of people being in prison, and
nobody sees it that way. But these same cellphones
we got in our pocket– AT&T, T-Mobile,
whatever we got– it’s like they got some
subsidiary of their company that’s running prison
telephones where they are kind of
like charging people enormous rates just to stay in
touch with their loved ones. And so how do we call
those people out? Do we shut our phone
off for one day? Everybody got unlimited
minutes, so that wouldn’t help, but how do we send a message
to these people that it’s time for y’all to stop making money
off the backs of people who are being marginalized and
can’t afford to do it? And that goes across every area,
housing and everything else. Because with housing, it’s
really impactful because most neighborhoods, people can’t even
afford to stay in them anymore primarily because people see
their land as some waterfront property. And so it’s like,
how do we start having the conversation
with people about? And the people who
allow them to do that is kind of like the
legislature, the city council people who pass
these ordinance that allow this area to be zoned
a certain way, and so how do we start having that
corrective behavior conversation with
those folks about, hey, we’re marginalizing people? It’s almost like the story
about the million dollar blocks. They have tracked
how many people have been pulled out
of this community that costs the state
a million dollars to keep them incarcerated. But when people start doing the
overlaid maps on top of them about, well, how much was
invested in this community? Nothing. And so these are the
kind of conversations we got to start having
with people about it just can’t be a one-side
conversation about we can make money, but
at whose expense? KRISTEN MACK: Yeah. Two-part question starting
with you, Nikole, about we talked a little bit about
the power of language, and it seems you
made a choice to talk about enslaved people versus
slaves throughout the piece. So if you can talk about that
choice in the 1619 Project and whether there was any
pushback from the editors. And then the second
part of the question is, “What role does
historical trauma play in this conversation,
and how can we use this narrative
creative process to bring insight and awareness
of this trauma to encourage accountability
and social responsibility toward change?” NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: So I think,
one, it speaks to, I think, how rarely we see
the type of project that the 1619 Project
is that every place I go, people want to know
about the pushback, right? There is an assumption that
I would have faced pushback in pitching this, and
generally, that assumption would be correct. But I did not really in no
aspect of the project at all. Language, of course, I mean, we
are journalists, we’re writers, so language is very important. And I thought it was
extremely important that we have a uniform
way of referring to people who were enslaved. I think calling our
ancestors slaves, of course, is dehumanizing. It speaks to who you
are, not a condition. And when you modify the
word “people” with enslaved, then you speak of a condition
that was not actually about the humanity
of those people. I think a lot about in
the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court said
that black people, whether enslaved or free,
came from a slave race. And because they came
from a slave race, that meant that even once
they gain their freedom, they still could
never be citizens of the country of their birth. So I was thinking
a lot about that, and I actually developed
really a miniature style guide that we sent out to
all of the editors on the project that basically
said, if you see the word “slave” and it’s
not in quotations, you need to strike that and
replace it with “enslaved.” Similar things about kind
of these benign words like plantation. Well, these were
slave labor camps. These were forced labor camps. We need to call
them what they were. When you call
Monticello a plantation, you can have this
gauzy view of this kind of beautiful whatever, that is,
of course, only exists and was literally built by
people who were forced to labor through torture. And so that language
was important to us. You will never see the
word “black” or “blacks” appear as a noun. I mean, to me, one of
the most grading thing is when someone says “the blacks
did this” or “blacks did that.” So black could only be
used as an adjective, and that had to be throughout
the entire project. And we read for that
when we were editing. And the worst
thing, to me, would be to have produced something
that further dehumanized people who, for 400 years,
have been fighting to have their full
humanity recognized, and that was very critical. KRISTEN MACK: I think we’re
going to end on that note. Again, I want to thank all
of our panelists today. Jason, Brian, Norris, Sarah,
thank you for joining us. Nikole, thank you for bringing
this beautiful 1619 Project into the world. And thank you for our
host this evening, the School of the Art Institute
of Chicago, the Pulitzer Center, Illinois Humanities,
and Envisioning Justice. Thank you all, and goodnight. [APPLAUSE]

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