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Month: November 2015

UW-Madison Students Study Inequalities, Food Deserts in South Madison

A recent article from Madison 365 discusses a class offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that studies food deserts in Madison and has students interact with programs in Madison that aim to combat this issue. A unique feature of this course is its face-to-face, hands on component, which has students volunteering at different organizations and interacting with other volunteers, some of whom are former inmates.

The course, which is called “Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison,” is “working to improve access to healthy food via sustainable, urban agriculture” and does so by having the fourteen students enrolled in the course collaborate with organizations around Madison. According to the article, this course started as a project that began in 2013 with a grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.

The project, in conjunction with the course, aims to “understand and combat racial discrimination and food insecurity by working with community leaders. It was designed to address inequities in South Madison’s current food system, while at the same time establishing employment opportunities for former inmates.”

Students volunteer at food kitchens, community dinners, and other organizations in South Madison as a way to interact with those experiencing food injustice as well as formerly incarcerated individuals. One student in the course says of the experience, “I found it extremely rewarding to be able to sit with men with whom I superficially had very little in common with and be able to talk openly about difficult issues regarding race and incarceration. Seeing their willingness to bring us into an intimate discussion about issues that affect them so personally was humbling.”

While food deserts and issues of accessing fresh food might not seem to be directly related to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, it is hard to ignore the fact that amidst all the food inequality in South Madison, African American adults in Dane County have been arrested at rates of more than eight times than the rate of arrests for whites (according to the article). The convergence of poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in South Madison is manifest in both the food desert status of South Madison as well as the rates of arresting African Americans in Dane County.

To read the article from Madison 365, click here.

Bryan Stevenson on The Laura Flanders Show

Bryan Stevenson was recently featured on The Laura Flanders Show, which is a weekly interview-based show hosted by Laura Flanders.

Flanders and Stevenson discussed the extremely high rates of mass incarceration in the United States and possible solutions to this issue, among other things, during Stevenson’s interview. Flanders in particular focused on the issue of isolation and how it relates to mass incarceration and our criminal justice system.

Watch the video of the interview below.

To watch the full interview, click here.

To read Laura Flanders’ “System Overhaul: Stop Isolating Prisons” click here.

Former Inmate Receives Award for Volunteer Work

Last week, a former Dane County jail inmate received the Presidential Award for his service in volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank. A news story from Channel3000.com discusses Dominic Davis’s journey from an inmate at the Dane County jail to a dedicated volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank.

Two years ago, Davis served his year sentence for drug charges at the Dane County jail and took part in the Pathfinders treatment program at the Chris Farley House. The Chris Farley House is a treatment facility in Madison that focuses on providing substance abuse services to a wide range of people.

While participating in the treatment program at the Chris Farley House, Davis opted to join an inmate volunteer program at the jail. Through this program, Davis volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank in the warehouse, where he also learned basic skills that later helped him get a job there. Davis says, “I worked harder than I had ever worked before in my life.”

A manager at the Chris Farley House nominated Davis for the Presidential Award, which he was awarded at the Faith in Action Celebration on November 12. Sheriff David Mahoney says, “Dominic Davis is an example of when the criminal justice system addresses the problems that bring a person into the system, rather than focusing on punishment, we can change lives to the positive.”

To read the Channel3000.com article and watch a news clip of the story, click here.

A Look at UW’s Current Go Big Read Book, “Just Mercy,” from the Selection of the Book to the Author’s Recent Talk on UW’s Campus

This post was written by UW-Madison Journalism student, Lisa Speckhard.

Since 2009, UW-Madison has hosted Go Big Read, its common book program. A book is chosen to be widely read and discussed throughout campus and the community. According to the program’s website, the goal is to “engage students, faculty, staff and the entire community in a vibrant, academically driven experience.”

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This year, the Go Big Read selection committee was looking for a book about inequality in America. They noted this was a pressing local issue, as could be seen in the Madison reactions to grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York, as well as the local shooting of Tony Robinson.

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Over 200 entries were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and members of the community. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank chose “Just Mercy.”

Blank stated, “Bryan Stevenson’s book raises tough and important questions about inequalities in the criminal justice system … Now is a particularly good time to hold these conversations, as UW-Madison students, staff and faculty grapple with the ways in which these larger national issues affect our own community.”

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The New York Times review of the book called it “a call to action for all that remains to be done.”

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Bryan Stevenson is a the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. In 2015, he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. You can learn more about his journey here:

UW-Madison and the greater Madison area offered many ways to interact with the book. UW distributed over 5,000 copies to new students, used the book in over 170 class sections, assigned it as reading for all first year law students, held a faculty and staff panel discussion on the issues raised in the book, and is hosting a human rights conference at the Pyle Center next week. Later in November, Central Library will provide a life-size model of a solitary confinement cell for visitors to experience.

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Students even interacted with the book artistically. Business students made posters inspired by the book.

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It wasn’t just students who were involved; the UW-Madison Police department also joined in.

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Madison residents can listen to a chapter of the book everyday on Wisconsin Public Radio.

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Madison Public Library facilitated discussion by distributing discussion kits.

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And a community panel discussion, featuring the Middleton Police Chief and the CEO of Urban League, was held at Middleton Public Library.

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At 7 p.m. Monday night, author Bryan Stevenson came to the UW-Madison campus to speak at Union South in Varsity Hall.

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Students and people from the community formed a long line to hear him speak.

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Before the talk, I asked audience members why they came.

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Stevenson opened the talk with a vision for the future.

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He then laid out four steps for arriving at that future.

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During the event, some audience members used Twitter to state their agreement and enthusiasm.

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After the event, I asked audience members what their biggest takeaway was:

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The talk is available online for those with NetIDs.

Those interested in “Just Mercy” can continue listening to a chapter of the book a day on NPR, check out the Pyle Center’s upcoming human rights conference, or step into a model solitary confinement cell at Madison Public Library.

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To read the original article by Lisa Speckhard click here.

TBT: Emma Watson interviews Malala Yousafzai

NPR profiled a recent interview with Malala Yousafzai in the article “Viral Video: Emma Watson Inspires Malala to Call Herself A Feminist.” The video shows Emma Watson, a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, having a conversation with Malala for the Into Film Festival. The annual, free film festival is a celebration of film and education for 5-19 year olds across the United Kingdom.

Watson and Malala talked about Malala’s new film “He Named Me Malala.” In the interview Malala said that she hopes it is “not just a movie but a movement.” Malala also talked about how she was inspired by Watson’s 2014 HeForShe speech by saying “When you said ‘if not now, when? If not me, who?’ I decided that there’s no way and there’s nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist, so I am a feminist. And feminism is another word for equality.” They concluded the conversation by talking about the importance of education for all girls and all children around the world.

Watch the interview below.

To read the article “Viral Video: Emma Watson Inspires Malala to Call Herself A Feminist” click here.

Watch the trailer for “He Named Me Malala” below.

 

UW-Madison Students Learn About Racial Justice Through Art at Wheelhouse Studios

The Morgridge Center for Public Service recently published an article about the opportunity that 18 UW-Madison freshman students had this fall to learn about racial justice through creating art. The students are enrolled in three courses that are focused on the same topic, which is “Citizenship, Democracy, and Difference.”

Their professor, Professor Kathy Cramer, took the students to Memorial Union’s Wheelhouse Studios earlier this month. The students were given small squares from a portrait and were asked to paint their squares on a larger square canvas without seeing the larger portrait.

Once the students completed their individual squares, these pieces were put together to form a large version of the portrait. Students were then shown the original portrait and saw the similarities between their collaborative work and the original.

The article from the Morgridge Center says that, “The students gather[ed] to reflect on the project through the lens of racial and social justice work. Students talk[ed] about the need for collaboration and the power of many over one. Other students explain[ed] how they felt their piece of the portrait seemed insignificant, alone. But now they realize how important it was to the final, collaborative picture. Just one missing piece would have left an incomplete portrait. Instructors explain[ed] how important these same principles are to racial and social justice.”

To read the original article and see the students’ finished portrait, click here.

Solitary Confinement Cell at Madison Public Library

A recent Wisconsin State Journal article, “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” by Samara Kalk Derby, profiled the life-size, walk-in model of a solitary confinement cell at the Madison Central Library. At the Library, patrons can walk around the cell and if they want, check out audio of what prisoners in solitary confinement hear, such as moaning, screaming, and other loud noises.

The model cell has been to multiple venues around Madison, including the state Capitol. It’s estimated that 4,000 people have explored the model cell. The cell was brought to the Library to help patrons make connections between this year’s Go Big Read book, Just Mercy, and Wisconsin.

According to information posted outside the cell, between December 2011 and December 2012, Wisconsin placed over 4,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, which was approximately twenty percent of the prison population at the time.

The state Department of Corrections is considering limiting solitary confinement to ninety days. Currently, prisoners can be in solitary for 180 days to an entire year. Although an improvement, ninety days in solitary confinement is still six times the international standard for torture.

The model cell will be on display at Madison Central Library until Thursday, November 12th.

To read “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” click here.

Upcoming Community Workshop in Middleton on Racial Inequalities

On October 12th, the Middleton Public Library held a community panel discussion of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. This event sparked much discussion about social injustices and issues of racism in Dane County. Five Middleton community leaders have organized a community-wide follow-up workshop in the wake of the book discussion to address racial inequalities in Dane County.

The event, entitled “Equity vs. Equality: An Examination of Racial Inequalities That Exist in Dane County,” will take place from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM in the courtroom at the Middleton Police Station, which is located at 7341 Donna Drive in Middleton. The event will be co-lead by Percy Brown, Director of Equity and Student Achievement at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, and Laura Love, Director of Secondary Education at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District.

Participants in the workshop will discuss current racial inequalities in Dane County, what actions are currently being taken to combat these inequalities within the community, and brainstorm other ways to tackle racial inequalities in the community.

One of the planners of the event, Middleton’s Chief of Police Charles Foulke, says, “The Equity vs. Equality training is a logical step in maintaining the momentum that community leaders have been building to address this very real problem [of racial inequality]. I am pleased to be part of the planning team for this training and feel the Middleton Police Department can be part of the solution.” The Middleton Police Department has been actively engaging with the themes in Just Mercy.

The event costs $10 to participate in, and scholarships are available for those in need.

To register for the event, pick up a form at the Middleton Public Library or the Middleton Outreach Ministry Office. You can also register online by clicking here.

You can email Jim Iliff at jiliff1955@gmail.com with any questions you might have or to apply for a scholarship to attend the event.

9th Grade English Students at West High School Read and Respond to Just Mercy

Post written by Kim Schopf and Lynn Glueck, Madison West High School

Every year, Madison Metropolitan School District students in English classes take beginning, middle and end-of-year writing assessments that help students and teachers gauge progress on the critical skills of reading a text closely and writing an argument based on that text. This year, as a way of tying this reading and writing authentically to the English 1 (9th grade English) curriculum and to current and relevant events and issues  in our community and the nation, the team chose to use an excerpt from Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  The excerpt, the story of 13-year-old Ian Manuel who was imprisoned in Apalachee Correctional Institution, for much of  time in solitary confinement, struck a chord with students, many of whom were interested in reading the book. When they reviewed their assessments together as a class it engendered discussions about race, justice, punishment, and forgiveness. While being horrified about the treatment of Ian in prison, they also struggled with notions of appropriate consequences for actions in adolescence. These are exactly the kinds of discussions that foster critical thinking that we want to see in our West classrooms.

In support of engaging students in their learning, there’s a new structure for English 1 instruction at Madison West, in which students choose books to read based on interest rather than exclusively reading whole-class texts. Also, while the focus is still mainly on reading literature, there’s more integration of nonfiction text. So the recent donation of copies of Stevenson’s Just Mercy from UW-Madison’s Go Big Read program is a welcome addition to the classroom libraries.  Students’ reading of the book, and attendance at the Go Big Read event at which Stevenson spoke, ties in well with the curriculum for quarter three of English 1, in which students will dig deeply into a unit of instruction entitled “Because Lives Matter”  and focus on writing argument based on text.  A central focus will be on social justice and exploring the following questions:

  • What is the significance of being able to express self and to be acknowledged?
  • How do readers deepen their content knowledge as well as come to understand perspectives and cultures?
  • How do writers create argument writing in order to examine and convey their ideas?
  • How does research enhance the discovery of storytelling, ideas, and arguments?

We strongly encouraged our 480 9th grade English students to attend the Go Big Read author event on October 26!

A big thank you to UW-Madison for providing the copies of Just Mercy for  West High students. The Wisconsin Idea in action.