Musical artist and Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah, acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall and Robert Smith, founder, chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners are among the honorees being recognized by Harvard University this year with the W.E.B. DuBois Medal for their contributions to black history and culture.
Harvard is set to honor Latifah, Marshall, Smith, poet and educator Elizabeth Alexander, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie Bunch III, poet Rita Dove, and Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television on Oct. 22, according to Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
Past recipients of the DuBois Medal include Dave Chappelle, Colin Kaepernick, Bryan Stevenson, Kehinde Wiley, Quincy Jones, Donna Brazile and LLCoolJ.
Told primarily in his own words, True Justice shares Stevenson’s experience with a criminal justice system that, he asserts, “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.” The burden of facing this system is explored in candid interviews with associates, close family members and clients.
The documentary chronicles Stevenson’s struggle to create greater fairness in the system and shows how racial injustice emerged, evolved and continues to threaten the country, challenging viewers to confront it.
According to hbo.com, the film covers Stevenson’s work in Alabama, birthplace of the civil rights movement and home to the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as the early influences that drove him to become an advocate for the poor and the incarcerated. As a young lawyer in the 1980s, he witnessed firsthand how courts unfairly applied the death penalty based on race and how the Supreme Court ultimately declared that racial bias in the administration of the death penalty was “inevitable.”
Tracing the trajectory of the Court since the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which ruled that African Americans are not citizens of the U.S., True Justice shows how the Court has long sanctioned inequality, oppression and violence. Illuminating the power of memory in cultural change, the film instills hope of a brighter American future through the insights of this pioneer.
The film also documents the monumental opening one year ago, on April 26, 2018, of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and its National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the country’s only lynching memorial, which is dedicated to the more than 4,400 African American victims of lynching.
These sites are part of the EJI’s nationwide effort to engage in a truth and reconciliation process around this country’s legacy of Native American genocide, slavery, lynching and racial segregation. As part of the campaign, Stevenson and the EJI are also working with communities to recognize lynching victims by collecting soil from lynching sites and erecting historical markers.
True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality is a co-production of HBO and Kunhardt Films; produced and directed by Peter Kunhardt, George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt; executive produced by Trey Ellis and Peter Kunhardt; edited and produced by Maya Mumma, ACE. For HBO: executive produced by Jacqueline Glover, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.
With powerful, poignant speeches from presenters and honorees alike, this year’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal awards felt more like a gospel church service-cum-rock concert than an academic award ceremony.
Athlete and social activist Colin Kaepernick set the tone before an exhilarated crowd that included some 150 local high school students, declaring that people in positions of privilege and power have a “responsibility” to speak up for the powerless.
“People live with this every single day and we expect them to thrive in situations where they’re just trying to survive,” said the NFL free agent who famously took a knee during pregame national anthems to protest racial injustice in America. “If we don’t, we become complicit. It is our duty to fight for them.”
Kaepernick was one of the eight laureates who received medals at Sanders Theatre on Thursday night. Others were comedian Dave Chappelle; writer and social critic Florence C. Ladd; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson; renowned artist Kehinde Wiley; General Catalyst chairman and CEO Kenneth I. Chenault; philanthropist and Avid Partners founder Pamela J. Joyner; and human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson.
The awards are bestowed by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research for contributions to African and African-American history and culture. Ladd, the former director of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, donned her medal, then pumped her fist in the air and told the cheering crowd: “A takeaway must be protest, protest, protest.”
Stevenson, M.P.P. ’85, J.D. ’85, L.L.D. ’15, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, dedicated his award to “people who did so much more with so much less” and asked the audience to think of hope as “your superpower.” To the students, he made a more pointed request: “You’ve got to be willing to do uncomfortable things. You’ve got to be willing to do inconvenient things. Don’t ever think that your grades are a measure of your capacity.” Stevenson himself won a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared that mandatory sentences of life without parole for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.
Moments of humor punctuated the call to resistance, particularly when presenter and incoming Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo recited parts of Chappelle’s famous skit “The Racial Draft.“ He called the comedian a “teller of uncomfortable truths.”
Chappelle, for his part, praised his parents, especially his mother, a professor of African-American studies. “She raised me well. I am not an uninformed person,” he said.
Chappelle said he was humbled to be on stage with his fellow honorees: “You all make me want to be better,” he said. He promised another comedy special and ended his speech with a quote from favorite writer James Baldwin’s book “The Fire Next Time.”
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water. The fire next time.”
Hutchins Center director Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor, reflected on the critical nature of the honorees’ work in the fight for racial and social justice.
“When we recall the dramatic progress we’ve made in this country’s struggle for civil rights, it’s tempting to remember only our long arc of progress. But we find ourselves in a new nadir in our country’s race relations,” he said, quoting Du Bois, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard.
“Agitation is a necessary evil to tell of the ills of the suffering. Without it, many a nation has been lulled to false security and preened itself with virtues it did not possess.”
WarnerMedia, the parent company of Hollywood studio Warner Bros., announced Wednesday a company-wide policy aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera. The initiative, established in partnership with actor Michael B. Jordan, is to apply to all productions going forward, beginning with Jordan’s “Just Mercy.”
“The WarnerMedia family has introduced an approach that accomplishes our shared objectives, and I applaud them for taking this enormous step forward,” Jordan said in a statement. “I’m proud that our film, ‘Just Mercy,’ will be the first to formally represent the future we have been working toward, together. This is a legacy-bearing moment.”
Since April Reign and #OscarsSoWhite took over headlines beginning in 2014, the entertainment industry has openly grappled with calls for more accurate and representative portrayals of more communities.
But it was, for many, Frances McDormand’s fiery speech at the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony (she won an Oscar for her lead role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) highlighting the concept of inclusion riders that drove some people to action.
(First coined by Stacy Smith, director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an inclusion rider is a provision that can be placed in stars’ contracts to mandate equity in casting and beyond.)
“Inclusivity has always been a no-brainer for me, especially as a black man in this business,” Jordan said. “[But] it wasn’t until Frances McDormand spoke the two words that set the industry on fire — inclusion rider — that I realized we could standardize this practice. It allowed me to formally pledge my production company, Outlier Society, to a way of doing business.”
WarnerMedia’s policy, which will also apply to HBO and Turner, focuses on having women, people of color, members of LGBTQ communities, folks with disabilities and other underrepresented groups in greater numbers in front of and behind the camera.
Along with the help of his agent, Phillip Sun at WME, Jordan worked with WarnerMedia to launch the policy with “Just Mercy.” Jordan is also an executive producer on the film, which is set to begin production in Atlanta this week.
“I’m proud that Warner Bros., and our sister companies HBO and Turner, are willing to state unequivocally that this is where we stand on diversity and inclusion,” Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros.’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement.
“Our policy commits us to taking concrete action to further our goals, to measure the outcomes and to share the results publicly,” he added. “I’m also thrilled that we were able to work with Michael B. Jordan to craft a meaningful policy and framework that will apply to all of our productions, across all of our divisions, going forward.”
Though the policy as written does not include specifics, the company does commit to “in the early stages of the production process, [engaging] with our writers, producers and directors to create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects, with the goal of providing opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups at all levels.”
“And, we will issue an annual report on our progress,” it said.
“Just Mercy” is a legal drama about a gifted young lawyer’s defense of the most vulnerable in this country and his fight for equal justice in a flawed legal system. It’s based on the book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.
Michael B. Jordan has set legal drama “Just Mercy” as the next feature he will shoot, as Warner Bros. picks up the rights for the story.
The film was originally set up at Broad Green Pictures, but after the studio shuttered earlier this year, producers began looking for a new home, and Warner Bros. was eager to work with Jordan.
Sources say that Jordan would shoot “Just Mercy” at the beginning of 2018, and would follow that up with “Creed 2,” where he would reprise his role as Adonis Creed. “Creed 2” is slated to bow on Nov. 21, 2018. It’s currently unknown if it will stick to that date, but as of now, there’s no plan to move the release.
“Short Term 12” director Destin Cretton is helming and co-wrote the script with Andrew Lanham. Jordan will produce with Gil Netter. Niija Kuykendall will oversee for the studio.
Based on the book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” it follows the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a gifted young lawyer’s defense of the most vulnerable in our country and his fight for equal justice in a flawed legal system.
Along with “Just Mercy,” Jordan also recently set up his directing debut with “Stars Beneath Our Feet.” The actor is also gaining traction as a producer, as he is on board to produce a reboot of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Raising Dion,” and and untitled project with Tarell Alvin McCraney for OWN.
SAN FRANCISCO — Google is handing out $11.5 million in grants to organizations combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, double what it has given so far. And, in keeping with a company built on information, the latest wave of grants target organizations that crunch data to pinpoint problems and propose solutions.
“There is significant ambiguity regarding the extent of racial bias in policing and criminal sentencing,” says Justin Steele, principal with Google.org, the Internet giant’s philanthropic arm. “We must find ways to improve the accessibility and usefulness of information.” Among the organizations receiving funds from Google.org is the Center for Policing Equity, a national research center that collaborates with police departments and the communities they serve to track statistics on law enforcement actions, from police stops to the use of force.
In addition to the grant of $5 million, Google engineers will put their time and skills to work on improving the center’s national database.”It’s hard to measure justice,” says Phillip Atiba Goff, the center’s co-founder and president. “In policing, data are so sparse and they are not shared broadly. The National Justice Database is an attempt to measure justice so that people who want to do the right thing can use that metric to lay out a GPS for getting where we are trying to go. That’s really what we see Google as being a key partner in helping us do.”
Like other major technology companies, Google is trying to address the racial imbalance in the demographics of its workforce. Hispanics make up 3% of Google employees and African Americans 2%. In 2015, Google gave $2.35 million to community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area tackling systemic racism in America’s criminal justice, prison and educational systems.
Four more grants totaling $3 million followed in 2016, including $1 million to Bryan Stevenson and his nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative to push America to confront its violent racial history including lynchings. The latest round of grants again put Google in the thick of a national conversation on race prompted by the police shooting deaths and mass incarceration of African Americans.
Tech giant Google announced on Friday that its philanthropic arm would be donating $1 million to Bryan Stevenson’s Alabama-based non-profit, Equal Justice Initiative.
The Harvard-educated Stevenson is a lawyer who has for decades fought the good fight—winning major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults in a deeply flawed American criminal justice system.
Justin Steele, a principal with Google.org and the Bay Area and racial justice giving lead told USA Today, “I think what’s exciting about what EJI is doing is that at a national level it is really trying to tell the untold history around race in this country and help people develop a deeper understanding for the narrative around race and how we have gotten to where we are.”
Google.org made the announcement during a Black History Month celebration at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters where Stevenson gave a speech on how the Google grant will help further his work.
USA Today reports that the racial justice grants were born out of a growing consensus inside Google that it must respond to the police slayings of African Americans and the fatal shooting of nine black citizens inside a Charleston, S.C., church last summer.
In November, Google.org made its first racial justice grants, giving $2.35 million to community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. This week, Google.org made four more grants, totaling $3 million.
Keeping in line with the activist mantra of organizing locally and thinking globally, the Equal Justice Initiative grant was the only grant gifted to a national non-profit—all other money was given to local organizations in the Bay Area working to eliminate racial disparities in education.
To see video of Bryan Stevenson’s Google talk, click here.
Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s insightful TED speech from 2012 eloquently discusses the injustices of our current incarceration system and encourages us all to help change it. If you haven’t seen it previously, GBN guarantees the above video is fully worth twenty three minutes of your time. To learn more about Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, click here.