The model that employs a man freed from prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder should be adopted nationwide.
Mr. Anthony Graves, 56, has a degree from a not-so prestigious institution: D.R.U, or “Death Row University,” as he called it in an interview with NBC News that highlighted his appointment to the Houston Forensic Science Center’s board of directors after being jailed for 18 years on a wrongful murder conviction.
“I became a criminal justice expert through my own experiences, he said, adding later “I watched the system fail me from top to bottom.”
Five years ago, Mr. Graves was freed, but it was only last Wednesday that his appointment to a nine-member board, which includes Texans cleared of violent crimes, became official.
Mr. Graves has the support of the City of Houston, particularly the Mayor, who submitted his appointment. But the news of Mr. Graves’ employment also elicited praise and support from an emerging scholar who teaches at one of Philadelphia’s most prized institutions.
“Yes, yes, yes, and more yes!” exclaimed Mr. Juwan Z. Bennett, a criminal justice teaching assistant at Temple University and a member of Techbook Online’s Board of Leaders and Doers, a world-class roster of thought-leaders, subject matter experts and active citizens who produce content across disciplines and platforms.
Mr. Bennett, the only black male currently enrolled in Temple’s criminal justice doctoral program, is a fan and practitioner of Participatory Action Research, the model which enables Mr. Graves’ contribution to reforming the system in Houston, Texas, though the academic terminology hasn’t appeared in any of the news reports that profiled him.
The term and the practice, says Mr. Bennett, also considered a criminal justice expert in some circles, is a new “qualitative thing that’s just beginning.”
PAR is indeed a new phenomenon, but the concept of engaging those who’ve experienced injustice and having them inform the conversation around solutions to injustice should be common sense.
Unsuccessful in our attempt due to unforeseen circumstances, we utilized PAR again at #TransparencyNow, a Mayoral forum on police and criminal justice reform, by having the mother of a man recently killed by police sit on the panel, pose questions to the Mayoral candidates and even co-introduce a bill that aims to improve how details regarding fatal officer-involved shootings are made public.
“Having Ms. Tanya Brown-Dickerson, the mother of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, at #TransparencyNow and affording her a seat at the table is an example of how thought-leadership is shaped by someone who has lived experienced on the subject matter,” said Mr. Bennett, who not only attended the event, but consulted on the line of questioning developed for it.
But how Techbook Online integrated PAR, implied Mr. Bennett, is just one of many ways in which the model can take shape in communities and, more specifically, around projects.
For example, Mr. Bennett, 22, is utilizing and promoting PAR this summer at a North Philadelphia housing project and the community members have influenced the re-development on the entire property.
“The Philadelphia Housing Authority gave a layout, and the President of the Residential Council pushed back on it, and it caused them to re-write the entire development plans based off her insight and expertise,” Mr. Bennett told Techbook Online exclusively. “Sometimes the PhDs, CEOs and officials think they have all the answers, but communities know best,” added Mr. Bennett, who, to cement his point, gave an example of how a community member advised the construction team to make the gathering space for senior citizens closer to the Street level entrances, as to have them travel the shortest distance possible.
In Philadelphia, Houston, and in every city across the country, exists experts who have experienced injustice, live close to pressing social problems and/or have graduated from the school of the hard knocks.
These citizens not only deserve a voice in government reforms, but they’re voice and unique insight could very well save a life, or at best, save the world.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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