Criminal Justice Reform Long Overdue For Black America

As a member of the infamous Wilmington Ten case in North Carolina from 1972 to 2012, I witnessed firsthand why the criminal justice system in the United States needed to be thoroughly reformed. We had been unjustly sentenced in 1972 to a combined total of 282 years in prison for standing up for equal quality education for black students in the public school system in Wilmington, NC in 1971.

For 40 long years, until North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue signed “Pardons of Innocence” documents for each member of the Wilmington Ten, the issues of unjust and disproportionate mass incarceration, bail reform, racism in the judiciary, prosecutorial misconduct, and reentry challenges were not matters of partisanship, but were matters of fundamental civil and human rights.

Thanks to the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the United Church of Christ (UCC), the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARP), Amnesty International and millions of people across the U.S. and throughout the world, we finally received a modicum of justice with the Pardons of Innocence being issued on December 31, 2012.

In the wake of the recent 2018 Midterm Elections, there now appears to be a more bipartisan interest and commitment in the achievement of significant criminal justice reform in America. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives finally passed the First Step Act with bipartisan support. The legislation establishes the initial steps for criminal justice reform at the federal level. Just last week, even President Trump announced his support of the First Step Act. However, what the U.S. Senate will do is still an open question.

The U.S. Congress should expedite passing the First Step Act as well as other criminal justice reform legislation. For black America in particular, this remains an urgent and crucial public policy objective.

Of the current 2.2 million people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails, a disproportionate number are African Americans and other people of color. According to a 2018 Pew Research Study, in 2016 African Americans represented 12 percent of the U.S. adult population but 33 percent of the sentenced prison population. The ACLU reports that African American men are six times more likely to be incarcerated as white men in the U.S.

According to the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, African American women are imprisoned at twice the rate of White women. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported in 2018 that 38 percent of prison inmates are African American.

But we need to do more than merely stating the statistics of criminal justice that bear witness to the racial, social, and economic inequities and injustices. We need solutions. We need more research about the successful programs and projects that can prevent mass incarceration while we emphasize the urgency for criminal justice reform legislation at both the federal and state levels. We also need more effective programs for the hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people preparing to reenter society without the counterproductivity of recidivism.

I have served on panel discussions amicably with Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries, who also supports the First Step Act, a bill grounded in evidence-based and data-driven practices that we know keep communities safe and provide people with the second chances they need to lead productive lives. The bill specifically provides programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison. Mark and I are on the same page on the issues of reentry and the need to reduce systemic reincarceration.

In fact, Koch Industries has been funding criminal justice reform efforts for more than a decade and was one of the first major corporations in the U.S. to “ban the box” by removing questions about criminal history on its employment applications. Other corporate leaders should also “ban the box.”

Earlier this year at the NNPA’s Mid-Winter Conference, we were pleased to welcome Brother Lamont Carey, a former prison inmate, noted author and founder of Contact Visits, a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization that he established to assist people preparing to reenter society from prison. It was reassuring to see how Lamont was able to break free of the stigma of incarceration and make a positive and productive contribution to help others transform their lives, families and communities.

Lastly, on the related issue of bail reform: There are nearly a half million people, most of whom are people of color, who are sitting in jail today only because they cannot afford to post a monetary bail. Google and Koch have also teamed up to raise awareness about the necessity for bail reform in America. They believe that individuals accused of a crime should not be required to provide bail unless deemed a threat to public safety or a flight risk, because freedom should not hinge on a person’s financial worth.

The time is now for action, not more partisan debate. No more postponements. No more excuses. The U.S. Congress should pass the First Step Act. We want equal justice. Criminal justice reform for black America is long overdue.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). He can be reached at

Time For African Americans To ‘Come Home’

One of the best-kept secrets among African Americans is how much our brothers and sisters in Africa enthusiastically would love for us to “Come home.” Such was the case most recently in Nigeria as delegations of African Americans traveled to lle-Ife, Nigeria, the ancestral home of the Yoruba culture and tradition, for the 2018 Olojo Festival, September 28-October 2, 2018.

I was pleased to be joined on this unique and meaningful pilgrimage to Nigeria by Claudette Perry of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA); Jeffery Boney, Texas city councilman and contributing writer for the NNPA; Tish Bazil, author and photographer; and Gary Foster, videographer and social media visionary.

We were invited to attend the Olojo Festival by His Imperial Majesty The Ooni of Ife, who is the global leader of Yoruba and King of the Osun State in Nigeria. Ile-Ife is one of the oldest cities in the world dating back thousands of years.

Yes, Africa is very rich with oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, titanium, platinum and other precious stones and metals. Africa’s richest resource, however, is its human resource in the context of thousands of years of culture, language and tradition. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with over 190 million people.

From what we witnessed firsthand during the five days while we were in Ile-Ife, it was the culture that has had and will continue to have the greatest impact on unifying Nigerians and all people of African descent throughout the Diaspora. The Olojo Festival was one of most authentic and impactful cultural festivals that we had ever seen. We saw vibrantly displayed cultural genius in native language, traditional dress, dance, spirituality, pageantry and food.

In fact, we experienced a real-life “Wakanda” celebration of the sanctity, diversity, and cultural wealth of Africa in the ancient sacred city of Ile-Ife, Nigeria. The Yoruba language and cultural manifestations were so evident at the Olojo Festival that we were all moved to tears of insatiable joy and passionate responses.

In preparation for this year’s Olojo Festival, H.I.M.The Ooni Of Ife, stated, “We are set for a legacy project that will uplift one of the oldest cities in the world and put it on the global tourist map.” I certainly plan to let all of our NNPA member publishers and media company owners know about this historic city and all-inspiring annual festival. We should start planning now for next year’s festival.

In truth, African Americans have so many issues that are impacting our quality of life, some may ask, “Why should we focus on Nigeria and other nations in Africa?” The answer to that question is quite factual. African Americans have a history that did not begin or end in slavery in the United States. Our ancestry in Africa needs to be better known, appreciated and embraced.

We must travel back to our ancestral homelands. We must reconnect with who we really are without the trappings and ornaments of white supremacy. We are an African people. That is more than a Pan-African slogan from the 1960’s. Our children and our grandchildren should be told the truth about our African past, present and future.

It is our responsibility and opportunity to reconnect to Africa beyond sentimentalities. It is time to develop joint economic development ventures. Our Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) should teach African languages and culture as a prerequisite for graduation. We should hold our family reunions in Africa. The NNPA will take trade delegations to Nigeria and to other African nations. The African Press Association will become a member of the NNPA.

We know that there will always be challenges both at home and abroad. The point here is that African leaders such as H.I.M.The Ooni of Ife are calling for all of us to “Come home.”

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached at

Ford empowers HBCU students to pursue STEAM careers

There is no debate about the continuing historic importance and strategic mission and purpose of the nation’s 120-plus Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). During the 2017 homecoming festivities that are now occurring on HBCU campuses across the nation, I believe it is also important to salute and recognize the companies that financially contribute to the success of HBCUs.

The Ford Motor Company has had a long track record of contributing to HBCUs that spans more than 30 years. Thus, it was noteworthy when Ford recently launched its “Drive2Greatness” initiative to support science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) programs at HBCUs.

We concur, that STEAM careers are vital and in high demand in today’s global economy. The clear majority of African American college students, who complete their course of studies in STEAM fields graduate from HBCUs. Thanks to the Ford Motor Company and the Tom Joyner Morning Show, the “Drive2Greatness” initiative is off to a great start.

According to “Raj” Register at Ford’s multicultural communications, “For more than three decades, Ford has been committed to implementing and supporting initiatives that encourage and inspire young people to pursue and succeed in STEAM careers…with the launch of our inaugural ‘Drive2Greatness’ program, we’re excited to extend that commitment to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their STEAM programs.”

The competition among HBCUs to win prizes in the Drive2Greatness program involves earning points through online voting at the Facebook page of the Tom Joyner Morning Show that includes using a Ford-dedicated hashtag via social media platforms. I just voted for my HBCU, Howard University, using the hashtag #FordHowardU. Howard University has a diverse array of many key STEAM academic disciplines. Make sure that you vote for your HBCU today.

Last year, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) awarded Tom Joyner our 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding national broadcast leadership and his dedication to our nation’s HBCUs. Ford selected the right national radio partner and outstanding leader in Tom Joyner. Our African American college students do need more support, encouragement and engagement, particularly with respect to STEAM careers.

The Ford Motor Company and the Tom Joyner Morning Show deserve our salute and tribute, because, together they are helping to make a positive difference in our communities and with our HBCUs. Driving toward greatness necessitates adequate preparation and attaining a quality education. Drive2Greatness is timely given the increasing demand for STEAM college graduates in the current expanding economy.

Dr. Lezli Baskerville is the President and CEO of the National Association for Equality Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), the umbrella organization of all of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly Black Institutions. Dr. Baskerville stated, “The Drive2Greatness program by the Ford Motor Company and the Tom Joyner Morning Show is an effective model on how to encourage STEAM careers. NAFEO is proud of what our HBCUs are accomplishing in these transformative fields of study.”

Our most precious resource in our communities is our youth, who are gifted and talented and also need more opportunities like the Ford Motor Company’s initiative on STEAM.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) based in Washington, DC and can be contacted at: