HOUSTON — A first of its kind certificate program to train formerly incarcerated Texans will launch this September. Announced Thursday, the new ACLU of Texas and Texas Southern University collaboration, the Smart Justice Speakers Bureau, will train formerly incarcerated Texans to speak publicly about criminal justice reform.
“It is time we focused on giving people returning to our communities after paying their debt to society the tools they need to succeed in life after prison,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, Political Director for the ACLU of Texas. “Our Smart Justice Speakers Bureau will teach participants how to share their stories and advocate for change in public forums, at local council meetings, and at the state legislature.”
“When I left death row for a crime I didn’t commit, I traveled the globe telling my story. People from around the world listened and asked what they could do to help fix our broken criminal justice system,” said Anthony Graves, Executive Director for Anthony Believes and Founder of the Anthony Graves Foundation. “It’s a dream come true for me to see large organizations like TSU and ACLU of Texas create a path for those directly affected to share their personal stories. I believe this collaboration is a step in the right direction towards our goal of cutting incarceration rates in Texas.”
The Speakers Bureau will utilize credentialed and experienced trainers to develop a 12-week curriculum specific to criminal-justice reform. Students will learn how to research, outline, write, and deliver informal and formal speeches to advocate for themselves and maximize their influence on criminal justice and public policies in the U.S.
“The Smart Justice Speakers Bureau is the first project of the ACLU of Texas and TSU collaboration,” said Marcia Johnson, Director of TSU’s Urban Research and Resource Center, the entity that will be working directly with the ACLU of Texas. “It will serve various purposes including educating the students in telling their stories in meaningful, compelling ways to impact criminal justice policy. We also hope the training and Bureau will help launch careers in facilitating inspirational speaking and more.”