Anyone who thinks the black church is a bygone relic with no relevance to the social justice struggles of today may need to reassess.
“The church” is obviously not a monolith and is taking on everything from mental illness and HIV/AIDS to voter suppression and mass incarceration. In that vein, Rev. Raphael Warnock and the historic Ebenezer Baptist, Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church, are kicking off a multi-faith-based movement that seeks to address the manmade storm that has seen millions of black men, women, and children jailed and placed under penal jurisdiction.
On Sunday, at 1 p.m. ET, Rev. Warnock, rapper T.I. and the men formerly known as the Central Park Five (now The Exonerated Five), will hold a press conference and participate in a massive Freedom Day Bailout, kicking off a three-day Ending Mass Incarceration Conference, which begins on Monday, June 17.
Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, says the time is ripe to continue to push against the over-incarceration of people of color.
“This conference is very important in ending mass incarceration and the systemic issues around black and brown people,” Salaam said to The Root. “Since the film, When They See Us, has come out, a lot is being done to expose the trauma of being black in America; of being stigmatized in America, and I want to use my platform to expose this ugly reality, especially as it pertains to young people, so that there will never again be a Central Park Five, there will never again be a Kalief Browder, and we can finally change this system for good.”
The New Georgia Project, founded by Stacey Abrams, which has worked to register hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia, is a nonprofit partner in the conference.
“Voter suppression and mass incarceration don’t live in silos, both are birthed from strategic and systemic racism,” Nse Ufot, Executive Director of the New Voter Project at the New Georgia Project, told The Root. “We want to use our time together at this conference to build power and tackle this together. This conference falls on Juneteenth and that is not lost on any of us. Post-slavery Freedom comes in many forms. For some, it’s the ability to cast a ballot— a freedom that is often made impossibly out of reach by mass incarceration.”
The three-day conference promises to be a comprehensive look at a substantial and far-reaching issue with breakout sessions (pdf) including the following:
- How to Confront Mass Incarceration in the Age [of] Afro-phobia & Anti-blackism
- How to Break the School to Prison Pipeline
- How to Hold Police Accountable as a Faith Community
- The Unique Impact of Mass Incarceration on the American Muslim Community
- How to Use Theologies and Religious Resources to Oppose Mass Incarceration
- Understanding and Challenging the Role of Implicit Bias in the Practice of Incarceration
The conference will also give attendees the chance to visit a virtual reality exhibit of the horrors of a solitary confinement cell and the conference promises to bring not only the black church but other faith communities into action on this still-ongoing crisis.
“Justice comes to those who work for it, and we are doing just that. We’re building a multi-faith movement to stop the rise of mass incarceration in the U.S.,” notes Pastor Billy Honor, Faith Organizer, New Georgia Project, to The Root.
To register for the Let My People Go: Ending Mass Incarceration Conference in Atlanta, which officially kicks off on Monday, June 17, click here.
Public portions will be available via live stream here.