The Man on Death Row Who Changed Me

Today, on International Human Rights Day, we are closing out our U.S. criminal justice reform blog series with a post by Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. His post is an essay adapted from his best selling book, Just Mercy. In it, he reflects on an experience from his law school days and the impact it had on the trajectory of his career. To view the entire blog series, click here.

We’ve chosen to focus on U.S. criminal justice reform on International Human Rights Day because we believe that the failure to face our history and reform abusive policies and practices reinforces a corrosive legacy affecting domestic legitimacy; and thus, our ability to advance international human rights norms abroad.  It is our hope that by putting the U.S. criminal justice system in the spotlight, we join an important conversation with humanity, human dignity and freedom at its core.

__

The Man on Death Row Who Changed Me

The visitation room was 100 feet square, with a few stools bolted to the floor and wire mesh running across the room. For family visits, inmates and visitors had to be on opposite sides of the mesh. Legal visits, on the other hand, were “contact visits” — the two of us would be on the same side of the room to permit more privacy. I began worrying about my lack of preparation. I had scheduled to meet with the client for one hour, but I wasn’t sure how I would fill even 15 minutes with what I knew. I sat down on a stool and waited until I heard the clanging of chains on the other side of the door.

The man who walked in seemed even more nervous than I was. He glanced at me and quickly averted his gaze when I looked back. He was a young, neatly groomed African-American man with short hair — clean-shaven, medium build — wearing bright, clean prison whites. He looked immediately familiar, like everyone I grew up with, friends from school, people I played sports or music with, someone I’d talk to on the street. As the guard left, the metal door banged loudly behind him.

I walked over and offered my hand. The man, who had been convicted of murder, shook it cautiously. We sat down.

“I’m very sorry,” I blurted out. “I’m really sorry, I’m really sorry, uh, O.K., I don’t really know, uh, I’m just a law student, I’m not a real lawyer.” Despite all my preparations and rehearsed remarks, I couldn’t stop myself from apologizing repeatedly. “I’m so sorry I can’t tell you very much, but I don’t know very much.”

He looked at me, worried. “Is everything all right with my case?”

“Oh, yes, sir. The lawyers at S.P.D.C. sent me down to tell you that they don’t have a lawyer yet,” I said. “But you’re not at risk of execution anytime in the next year. We’re working on finding you a lawyer, a real lawyer.”

He interrupted my chatter by grabbing my hands. “I’m not going to have an execution date anytime in the next year?”

“No, sir. They said it would be at least a year.” Those words didn’t sound very comforting to me. But he just squeezed my hands tighter.

“Thank you, man,” he said. “I mean, really, thank you! I’ve been talking to my wife on the phone, but I haven’t wanted her to come and visit me or bring the kids because I was afraid they’d show up and I’d have an execution date. Now I’m going to tell them they can come and visit. Thank you!”

I was astonished. We began to talk. It turned out that he and I were exactly the same age. He told me about his family and his trial. He asked me about law school and my family. We talked about music and about prison. We kept talking and talking, and it was only when I heard a loud bang on the door that I realized I had stayed long past my allotted time. I looked at my watch. I had been there three hours.

The guard came in and began handcuffing him; I could see the prisoner grimacing. “I think those cuffs are on too tight,” I said.

“It’s O.K., Bryan,” he said. “Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, O.K.?”

I struggled to say something appropriate, something reassuring. He looked at me and smiled. Then he did something completely unexpected. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. I was confused, but then he opened his mouth, and I understood. He had a tremendous baritone that was strong and clear.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on heaven’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

It was an old hymn they used to sing all the time in church where I grew up. I hadn’t heard it in years. Because his ankles were shackled and his hands were locked behind his back, he almost stumbled when the guard shoved him forward. But he kept on singing.

His voice was filled with desire. I had come into the prison with such anxiety and fear about his willingness to tolerate my inadequacy. I didn’t expect him to be compassionate or generous. I had no right to expect anything from a condemned man on death row. But that day, I could hear him as he went down the hall, until the echo of his earnest, soaring voice faded. When it had gone, the still silence of that space sounded different from when I entered. Even today, after 30 years of defending death-row prisoners, I still hear him.


Bryan Stevenson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Read more >>

The Crisis of the American Criminal Justice System is Bad News for Everyone

 Written by Richard Branson and Van Jones, exclusively for the A3A criminal justice blog series.

From the perspective of philanthropic institutions and individuals, criminal justice is not a distant problem that primarily concerns governments. The failures of the criminal justice system, from mass incarceration to egregious racial inequalities, have had such profound corrosive impacts that they can no longer be ignored. 

With 2.3 million people in the US prison system, 7 million on parole or probation, and 1 in 3 African-American men expected to go to prison at some point in their lifetime, we are facing a crisis of dramatic proportions. The system is so fundamentally broken that its very capacity to deliver justice has to be called into question. Equality before the law, the right to a fair trial and due process are frequently and often quite deliberately violated, tipping the scales to a point that conviction or acquittal are no longer a question of guilt or innocence, but rather a matter of socio-economic status and race. If you can’t pay for a good defence, the odds are stacked against you. If you are black or Hispanic and can’t pay for your defence, you are screwed. 

It’s an unacceptable status quo that also weakens America’s moral authority abroad. Indefinite solitary confinement, life without parole for minors and the fact that one in nine death row inmates will eventually be exonerated do not exactly strengthen our negotiating position when trying to stand up for human rights elsewhere. 

Beyond the staggering facts, the broader consequences are quite clear: this crisis threatens to roll back and undo years, if not decades, of social progress, much of which was accomplished with passionate support from the philanthropic community. Public health goals are undermined by everything from stress related-illnesses to high HIV transmission rates within prisons. Family formation is interrupted; children lose contact with incarcerated parents. Economic development is undercut when large numbers of African-Americans have felony convictions that lock them out of the job market. No question, if the legacies of the civil rights movement, of the fight for equality and of the war against poverty are to endure, we are all called upon to join forces and help restore justice, dignity, fairness and equality – the bedrock principles of healthy, equitable and prosperous societies.

To be frank, this is a momentous challenge many philanthropic organisations have to come to terms with as they seek to find their own role in the 21st century. Much of philanthropy still prefers to treat symptoms, rather than pushing for systemic change. It’s time to shift our priorities. 

How can this be done? First of all, reform needs champions and resources. Modern philanthropy should be prepared to provide both.

Part of the exercise is to listen to the voices of the criminal justice reform movement. The wider public, as well as mainstream media, are only slowly beginning to understand the extent of the problem. As advocates, champions and thought leaders, philanthropies can help amplify awareness of the causal relationships between a broken system and its devastating impacts. There is enormous room for positive and meaningful programmatic work to highlight best practices, vocally support reform efforts and grassroots initiatives. 

The good news is that change is happening. Ballot initiatives and legislative proposals seek to undo years of injustice. Unlikely alliances are forming across party lines and ideological positions, recognizing that the human and economic cost of these continued injustices, estimated as in excess of $80 billion a year, is not just unsustainable, but also deeply un-American 

While the window for change is open -- with so much at stake for so many -- philanthropy needs to continue working open doors of opportunity, while doing everything possible to close prison doors. Both are necessary. 


                         
 

Since starting youth culture magazine “Student” at aged 16, Richard Branson has found entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world.  In 2004 he established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world. Most of his time is spent building businesses that will make a positive difference in the world and working with Virgin Unite and organisations it has incubated (The Elders, The Carbon War Room, The B Team, Ocean Unite and Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship). He also serves on the Global Commission on Drug Policy and supports ocean conservation with the Ocean Elders. Connect: @virginunite@richardbranson | virgin.com/unite


Van Jones is a CNN political commentator, regularly appearing across the network’s programming and special political coverage. Jones is a Yale-educated attorney. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, The Green Collar Economy (2008) and Rebuild the Dream (2012). The second book chronicles his journey as an environmental and human rights activist to becoming a White House policy advisor. He was the main advocate for the Green Jobs Act. Signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007, the Green Jobs Act was the first piece of federal legislation to codify the term “green jobs.” During the Obama Administration, the legislation has resulted in $500 million in national funding for green jobs training. Van is founder of Dream Corps, Rebuild The Dream, Green For All, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change. Connect@Cut_50 | @VanJones68 | www.cut50.org

Why I Decided To Go Back To Prison

 

At age 17, Shaka Senghor was shot three times in his own neighborhood.  Living in reactionary fear, he then killed a man and was sent to prison. There, he was hostile and angry becoming the “worst of the worst,” eventually landing him in solitary confinement for seven years. After receiving a profound letter from his son, he re-examined his life and began a difficult self-transformation. With the help of mentors, his family and partner, literature and writing, he practiced forgiveness and reconciliation. He spent two decades in prison before he was released. Shaka received a fellowship at MIT Media Lab, became a professor at the University of Michigan and now works with formally incarcerated men and women who are integrating back into society. Additionally, he mentors at-risk youth going down a path reminiscent of his own, creating an empathetic space for change. 

His compelling blog piece was written for the Article 3 blog series on U.S. criminal justice reform and details his experience of returning to prison in an entirely different context. 

 
 

 

For the first time in the five years I have been home, the emotions of what 19 years in prison did to me hit me like a brick in the face. Just two weeks prior, I had been invited to speak at a Black History Month program at Handlon Correctional Facility. When I walked inside the prison, everything about serving time came rushing back to me. The sound of gates crashing closed, officers barking orders and the laughter and jokes of incarcerated men, all reminded me of the years I spent inside. However, the thing that struck me at the core of my being was the utter disdain and disgust that I saw in the eyes of two officers who stared me down with such intense hatred that it caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. They didn’t want me there and it was very apparent that they were holding a grudge against me because of my past. In fact, I would later learn that several officers had taken the flier with my face on it, which had been posted around the facility, and shared it amongst each other as they talked about how angry they were that I was being allowed back inside. This was just another in a long line of reminders that there are some people who truly don’t believe in second chances.

Despite the anger in their eyes, I smiled, because at the end of the day I wasn’t there for them. I was there to fellowship with my brothers. I was there to pour love, hope and inspiration into men who continue to inspire my work today. I was there because I wanted these men, my brothers, to know they weren’t and will never be forgotten, at least not by me. I drove to the prison because I wanted to tell them face to face, man to man, brother to brother that I carry them in my heart everywhere I go, and that every time I share my story, I am sharing their story because we are forever connected by the misfortune of our circumstances. Most importantly, I drove the 2 hours to the prison to be searched and run through metal detectors several times because I want these brothers — my brothers — to know that they have a second chance to do something meaningful with their lives. Yes, that’s why I was there.

Once inside the auditorium where I was scheduled to speak, thoughts of how the men would react to my presence bounced around in my head. I wondered how many of them I had served time with. I wondered what old friends would look like. I wondered who would absorb the food for thought I had to share. Although I had thought about what I was going to say on my drive up to Ionia, when the first brother walked in the room and came up and hugged me, all of that went out of the window. In that moment, I knew that I had to let my soul speak and not my head.

As the men filed in, my heart began to break inside. Men I had grown up with, who were once vibrant with life despite their circumstances, were now showing the signs of being beat down and broken by the reality of incarceration. Their eyes no longer shined with the optimism of men who believed they would be given a second chance. Their faces were somber and heavy with the sadness and pain of being left to wither away in the cold and indifferent world of prison. In addition to the men whose spirits appeared to be broken was another reality that has always troubled me — mental illness. Over a third of the 150 men who were present showed clear signs of being under the influence of heavy psychotropic drugs. But in the midst of this all, there were glimmers of light that manifested in the form of my former bunkie and a few other men who I had served time with. Their smiles were bright and I could see and feel the love and pride in their eyes. It was that energy that fed my soul for the next hour and a half. By the time I was done, that light had expanded across the auditorium and all of the men were now smiling and laughing as I joked with them and loved on them as a brother, friend and man of my word. Before I came home, I told them I would never forget them, and five years later my word remains intact.

When I was done they gave me a standing ovation, and one by one they came and gave me hugs and shook my hand. Today I heard “I am proud of you” over 100 times!!! When I got in my truck to leave, I thought about the drive up there and it struck me that the last 24 years of my life has been connected to prison. As I drove past the other 3 prisons on the same road, I asked the Creator would it always be like this and why I was chosen for this calling. Within one minute of asking these questions, a song in my play list by the artist T.I. came on called ‘Hallelujah.’ It was one of his song’s I normally skip past because I don’t care for the beat, but this time I just let it play out and it blew my mind because the song was talking about his life in prison. Normally that wouldn’t be that big of a deal to me because it’s the reality that many rappers understand far too well. However, as soon as that song went off 2Pac’s song ‘Hold Ya Head’ from his Makaveli album came on. Back-to-back songs about prison right after I had asked the question. There was no doubt in my mind that the Creator had spoken and its with this understanding that I will continue doing everything in my power to offer hope and inspiration in places where its needed most. My belief is that we are at a moment in history that can forever change how we treat them men and women on lockdown, especially those with mental illness. A little bit of hope goes a long way. 

____________

Shaka Senghor is a writer, mentor and motivational speaker whose story has inspired youth and young adults at high schools, universities, and conferences across the nation. He is founder of the Atonement Project, a recipient of the 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award, a 2013 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network, and teaches a course on the Atonement Project at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2014, Shaka shared his story on the world-renowned TED stage and in just four months his talk reached more than 1,000,000 views.  

Shaka was recently named the 2015 Manchester University Innovator of the Year and currently serves as the Director of Strategy for #Cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to safely and smartly reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years by convening unlikely allies, elevating proven solutions, and communicating a powerful new narrative.

Ai Weiwei's Alcatraz Exhibition '@Large' Opens September 27th

Alcatraz

This article was originally written by Andrew Dalton of SFist. Celebrated Chinese dissident, architect and artist Ai Weiwei's highly anticipated exhibition "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz" will open this fall on September 27th and run through the end of April 2015. The exhibition will feature seven site-specific installations in four different locations on the former federal prison island, three of which are not normally open to the sightseeing public.

The exhibition is being put on by San Francisco's FOR-SITE foundation along with the stewards of the island at the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. According to this morning's official announcement, it will offer "a new cultural lens through which to experience the notorious military and federal penitentiary turned national park."

The works are meant to explore questions of human rights and freedom of expression in the context of incarceration, detainment and protest. Ai himself was secretly detained by the Chinese government for 81 days in 2011 on charges of tax evasion. Since his passport was revoked and he is still not permitted to leave the country, don't expect the artist to make an appearance at the site. The works were developed in Ai's Beijing studio.

From the official announcement:

The large-scale sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works will be installed in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the main and psychiatric wards of the Hospital; the A Block cells, the only remaining section of the military prison that was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall.

Aside from the dining hall, all of those locations are usually off limits to visitors. During the exhibition's five-month run, they will all be open to the ticket-buying public.

Tickets go on sale to the general public through Alcatraz Cruises next month on June 27th and will include access to the exhibition as well as the general Alcatraz audio tour. Tickets to Alcatraz typically sell out weeks in advance, but expect them to go even faster with the extra cultural draw. A limited number of same-day tickets will be set aside for anyone who can make it to the Early Bird boat at 8:45 a.m. daily. Tickets will be $50 for adults and juniors, $38.25 for children (5-11), and $48.25 for seniors.

[Official Site] Tickets via Alcatraz Cruises

Feature photo by Sam Breach.

Remembering the Grace of Dr. Maya Angelou

This week the literary and civil rights world lost an true heroine, advocate and mentor, Dr. Maya Angelou. She will be remembered not only for her pursuit of justice and her literary genius, but also for the graceful way in which she conveyed her messages. We believe that the below video captures this grace. Her words and spirit will be missed. To read about her legacy, click here.

Confronting Evil: Genocide in Rwanda

Alison Des Forges was Human Rights Watch's senior advisor in the Africa Division and one of the world's foremost experts on Rwanda. In the period leading up to the genocide, she worked tirelessly to alert world powers to the impending crisis in Rwanda. Her efforts did not stop when the genocide ended. She continued painstakingly gathering information on these horrific crimes, which she compiled into what has become one of the main reference books on the Rwandan genocide: "Leave none to tell the story: Genocide in Rwanda", published in 1999. Alison Des Forges campaigned vigorously for justice for the genocide until her sudden death in a plane crash in the US on February 12, 2009. She also documented human rights abuses by the new government of Rwanda after the genocide and advocated for accountability for all abuses, past and present.

Congratulations to Global Witness for Winning the TED Prize AND the Skoll Award for Entrepreneurship!

Global-Witness

NEW YORK, March 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- TED and the Skoll Foundation are proud to join in making a unique announcement: each will direct their annual million-dollar prizes to Global Witness. TED will grant its award to Charmian Gooch, Global Witness Co-Founder and Director. The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship will honor all three Co-Founders and Directors – Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch, and Simon Taylor – and the organization itself for its extraordinary innovation in disrupting an unjust and unsustainable status quo.

Though TED and the Skoll Foundation separately decided to honor Gooch and Global Witness with their 2014 awards, the organizations are making a joint announcement to highlight the value, merit and distinct contributions of this cutting edge investigative and campaigning organization. For 20 years, Global Witness has run pioneering analysis and campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.

"I am thrilled to announce Charmian Gooch as the 2014 TED Prize winner," said Chris Anderson, TED curator. "That both TED and Skoll independently selected Charmian and Global Witness as recipients of these prizes is a remarkable testament to their daring investigative and campaigning work. The TED Prize is granted annually to an inspiring individual with a world-changing wish – one that Charmian will reveal at the TED Conference in just two weeks' time."

TED, the nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, awards its annual prize to an extraordinary individual with a bold, creative vision to spark global change. The TED Prize leverages the TED community's resources and invests $1 million into a powerful, world-inspiring idea. 2014 TED Prize recipient Charmian Gooch will announce her wish live from the main stage at the annual TED Conference. The session will be broadcast globally for free on March 18 (6-7:45 pm PDT):http://tedlive.ted.com/webcasts/2014

"Social entrepreneurs are, by definition, disruptors. Patrick, Charmian, and Simon's leadership epitomizes great social entrepreneurship in Global Witness's quest to expose global conflict, corruption, and environmental degradation, lifting millions out of poverty and protecting the environment. We are delighted to announce Patrick, Charmian, and Simon as among our 2014 Skoll Awardees," said Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation.

"Skoll and TED both connect and showcase inspiring, entrepreneurial, breakthrough innovators. We are thrilled to be working closely with our TED colleagues, who share our mission to catalyze social change."

The Skoll Foundation presents the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship each year to transformative leaders who are disrupting the status quo, driving large-scale change, and are poised for even greater impact. Recipients of the Skoll Award gain leverage and scale through a global community of social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems. Global Witness's Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch, and Simon Taylor will be honored along with other 2014 Skoll Awardees at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford, April 9-11.

"Everyone at Global Witness is honored and thrilled to receive these two prestigious awards, from two remarkable organizations," said Charmian Gooch, Co-Founder and Director of Global Witness. "They truly are a rocket boost to our work – making it possible for us to carry out even more cutting edge investigations, report on matters in the public interest, and launch hard hitting campaigns that challenge vested interests and change the system. I'm personally also very excited about the prospect of announcing the details of my TED Prize Wish live from the TED conference in March. This being our 20thAnniversary year, we couldn't have wished for a better birthday present."

About Global Witness

Founded in 1993, Global Witness is a UK not-for-profit based in London and Washington DC.

Global Witness investigates and campaigns to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction. The organization focuses on undertaking hard-hitting investigations into matters of public interest that expose the companies, the corrupt, the bankers, the corporate executives, and the middlemen of various kinds who willfully enable corruption to take place on a grand scale. Global Witness reports on these matters, and launches campaigns that change the terms of debate and set the global agenda.

Patrick Alley, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Since posing as a timber buyer in Global Witness's first investigation into the Thai-Khmer Rouge timber trade in 1995, Patrick has taken part in over fifty field investigations in South East Asia, Africa and Europe and in subsequent advocacy activities. Patrick has focused on Global Witness's campaigns on conflict resources, notably former Liberian President Charles Taylor's'arms for timber' trade, the minerals trade in Eastern DRC and more recently the Central African Republic, as well as providing strategic direction for Global Witness' work on forest issues, especially challenging industrial scale logging and land grabbing in the tropics. In addition, he is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

Charmian Gooch, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Charmian worked on Global Witness's first ever investigation into how the illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Thailandwas funding the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Subsequent to that, Charmian developed and launched Global Witness's groundbreaking campaign to combat 'blood diamonds,' using detailed research and field investigations across Africa andEurope. Global Witness was nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on conflict diamonds, and in 2005 the organization received the Gleitsman International Activist Award. Charmian has wide-ranging experience advocating for international policy solutions to address natural resource-related conflict and corruption. In addition, she is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

Simon Taylor, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Simon worked on Global Witness's first ever investigation into how the illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Thailand was funding the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. After that, Simon launched and led Global Witness's oil and corruption campaign inDecember 1999, after investigating companies and elite groups involved in this sector. This began the global call for transparency around payments by companies to governments for natural resources, leading to Global Witness's conception and co-launch of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) campaign, which now consists of over 790 civil society organisations worldwide. Simon has detailed expertise of natural resource-related corruption and extensive advocacy experience, and continues to be at the forefront of the push for a global standard of revenue transparency legislation, as well as being actively involved in Global Witness's work to expose corruption in the sector.  In addition, he is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

For press inquiries: Andrea Pattison +44 7703 671 308 apattison@globalwitness.org

About the TED Prize The first TED Prize was awarded in 2005, born out of the TED Conference and a vision by the world's leading entrepreneurs, innovators, and entertainers to change the world – one wish at a time. The original prize: $100,000 and the TED community's range of talent and expertise. What began as an unparalleled experiment to leverage the resources of the TED community has evolved into an ambitious effort to spur global-scale change.

From Bono's the ONE Campaign ('05 recipient) to Jamie Oliver 's Food Revolution ('10 recipient) to JR's Inside Out Project ('11 recipient) and Sugata Mitra's School in a Cloud ('13 recipient), the TED Prize has helped to combat poverty, take on religious intolerance, improve global health, tackle child obesity, advance education, and inspire art around the world.

For Press Inquiries: Erin Allweiss +1 202 446 8265/ Erin@thenumber29.com

About the Skoll Foundation & the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship

The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship distinguishes transformative leaders who are disrupting the status quo, driving large-scale change, and are poised for even greater impact. Recipients of the Skoll Award gain leverage and scale through a global community of social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems.

The 2014 Skoll Awardees will be honored at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford, April 9-11. Sign up to watch the live stream from Oxford here.

For press inquiries: Suzana Grego +1 650 331 1021/ sgrego@skollfoundation.org

Pam Omidyar Reflects on the Work of Humanity United as Human Trafficking Awareness Month Comes to a Close

Increasingly, there is more awareness among people today that modern day slavery exists in our world to support the demands of a consumer driven global economy.  Today, many of the goods we use are often produced far from where they are bought, successively changing hands along complex and opaque supply chains.  Forced and child labor exist across too many these supply chains, with documented abuses throughout the production process. A growing body of research tells us there are an estimated 21 to 30 million people living in slavery around the world today.  In fact, trafficking in persons is one of the top-grossing criminal industries globally, with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.  It is not acceptable to continue to allow people’s lives to not be free and to have millions of people forced to work without choice or beneficial return for their efforts.

HU_FI

In 2005, we established Humanity United to build peace, promote justice, and advance human freedom in the areas of the globe where these ideals are challenged most.  Today, I am very proud that Humanity United remains deeply engaged in the effort to combat trafficking and slavery around the world.

President Obama named January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month to shine a light on modern-day slavery and the trafficking of human beings in the United States and around the world.  As this month draws to a close, let me share with you some of the important anti-slavery work that is being lead and supported by Humanity United on a number of fronts.

Awareness:

Since our founding, Humanity United has supported research and investigative journalism initiatives to increase the understanding and awareness of the issue of modern-day slavery.  Last spring, we began a partnership with The Guardian to increase the quality and quantity of investigative reporting on issues of slavery and trafficking around the world.  This partnership has resulted in the Modern day slavery in focus site, which continues to produce quality reporting from journalists from around the world.

A few months ago, The Guardian broke the story of the plight of Nepalese labor migrants living, working and dying in forced labor conditions in preparation for the 2020 World Cup in Qatar.  This story brought world-wide attention to this issue, and subsequent reporting from media around the world continues to spur dialogue and solutions about the need for improved standards for these workers.

Supply Chains:

Humanity United is working to engage corporations and businesses, who have an clear opportunity and a moral responsibility to meaningfully contribute to the eradication of slavery from their supply chains.  We are working to support specific efforts within the seafood and palm oil industries, and through efforts like KnowTheChain.org, an online resource we launched with partners last fall to promote greater transparency and dialogue with corporations around the issue of slavery in supply chains.

It is encouraging to see corporations, consumers and investors respond as they learn more about this issue. I am hopeful that Humanity United’s efforts to engage companies around these issues continue to spur understanding and action to ensure no one on our shared planet is enslaved.

Policy Advocacy:

Humanity United convened and continues to support the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, a coalition of 11 U.S.-based human rights organizations advocating for solutions to prevent and end modern slavery and human trafficking in the United States and around the world. ATEST advocates for lasting solutions to prevent labor and sex trafficking, hold perpetrators accountable, ensure safety and justice for victims and empower them with tools for recovery.

Trafficking in the United States:

When we hear about human trafficking, too many of us assume it is an issue that only occurs abroad, but the sad fact is that it is happening right here at home in the United States. Tens of thousands of people across this country are living in some type of modern-day slavery. And while human rights organizations work to combat this crime, survivors face a plethora of obstacles as they enter a new life and a system that is not equipped to support and help them.

PFF

Last fall, on the one-year anniversary of the President Obama's landmark speech on human trafficking and slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative, Humanity United – together with the federal government and other private donors – launched the Partnership for Freedom, a public funding challenge that asks communities and organizations to propose new solutions for helping victims of human trafficking in the U.S.

We have identified some exciting and innovative finalists from the first challenge, from which judges will choose winners later this spring, and we will launch the next challenge later in the year.

Funding:

Humanity United joined the Legatum Foundation and Walk Free Foundation to recently announce the joint development, support and foundation of an ambitious seven-year effort to raise and deploy $100 million or more to combat modern-day slavery.  The Freedom Fund is the first private donor fund of its size dedicated to combatting modern-day slavery.

Our objective is simple – to seek and align significant funding to the cause while amplifying the impact of our efforts to combat slavery through collaboration – with the goal of measurably reducing slavery in key areas of prevalence by the year 2020.  The Freedom Fund will officially launch later this year.

During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and beyond, I am mindful of the millions who continue to suffer in enslavement.  I want to express my gratitude to the dedicated staff and leadership at Humanity United, as well as our many very committed partners, who work every day on these and other initiatives to combat the crime of modern-day slavery and create a free world for all.

It will take the engagement and significant collaboration of public, private, and social sectors to truly shift mindsets and culture around the hidden and shameful nature of slavery. Through greater partnerships, transparency and aligned intention, we can scale immensely to achieve our worthy vision of our shared global freedom.

Humanity United is a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom. At home and in the corners of the globe where these ideals are challenged most, we lead and support efforts to lift up the voices and will of people, ensure good governance and the rule of law, engage markets and business as a force for change, and encourage the exploration of promising ideas and innovations to end conflict and slavery—all with the belief that everyone has the right to a life that is peaceful and free. Learn more at www.HumanityUnited.org or follow us on Twitter (@HumanityUnited) and Facebook. Humanity United is part of the Omidyar Group: www.omidyargroup.com.

__

Pam Omidyar is the Founder and Chair of the Board of Humanity United, which she established in 2005. Humanity United is a philanthropic organization committed to building peace and advancing human freedom by leading, supporting, and collaborating with organizations that also envision a world free of conflict and injustice.

Pam and her husband Pierre are active philanthropists, guided by a common set of values – a deeply rooted belief in humanity, and a conviction that the world thrives when we prioritize treating others with compassion, dignity, and a respect for diversity. Working across many sectors and geographies, the Omidyars have contributed to causes ranging from economic advancement for the underserved and human rights to technology for improving kids' health and sustainability initiatives.

To fulfill their mission Pierre and Pam are deeply engaged in the organizations they founded, including: HopeLab, Humanity United, Omidyar Network, and Ulupono Initiative in their home state of Hawaii. While each organization across The Omidyar Group has a specific focus, they are united in that they all aim to improve access to create enabling positive conditions for people and their communities.

Vice and Madonna Collaborate on "Art for Freedom"

Perhaps taking a cue from Bono, Madonna has teamed up with Vice to address human rights violations through art. And not just through her art, you could be the artist that ignites change. After uploading artwork to the Art for Freedom website (or hash tagging your art #ARTFORFREEDOM via other social media outlets), an artist is selected every month by Madonna, Vice and a guest curator. Madonna will then give $10K to the charity of the selected artist's choice in an effort to encourage creative expression that brings awareness to human rights. Sounds like a win-win.

Glancing Back at 2013

Glancing-Back-at-2013

This year was rife with important milestones, achievements and events related to the human rights movement. We’ve compiled the milestones that most resonated with us. Let us know what resonates with you in the comments section below. 1) Defeated Militia: Colonel Sultani Makenga, Commander of the M23 rebel group in the eastern DRC, surrendered in Uganda along with 1,700 of his rebel fighters this past November. The M23 were ambushed by the Congolese army (also backed by 3,000 UN fighters) and were forced to either be captured or flee. It was under these pressures that they declared a ceasefire, ending a very bloody 20-month uprising.

2) In RemembranceNelson Mandela, former South African President and beloved anti-apartheid leader, died on December 5th 2013. Widely called “Madiba,” Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his political activities during apartheid in South Africa.  Despite his imprisonment he preached the importance of reconciliation and represented survival in the struggle for human dignity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and leaves behind a legacy of equality, justice and freedom.

Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and playwright who won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 1995, died on August 30th, 2013. One of his most famous poems spoke of suffering and conflict in Northern Ireland. Below is an excerpt; for the full poem click here.

History says, Don't hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.

3) AppointmentsSamantha Power’s appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations began on August 5th, 2013. Power is widely considered one of the most important thought leaders and is most known for her strong human rights background and specifically for her extensive genocide research. She wrote “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a study on the response of U.S. foreign policy in regards to various cases of genocide. She also authored “Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World,” a book about the heroic life of Sergio Vieira de Mello.

4) Symbol of Defiance: Surviving a gunshot wound to the head for defending her right to an education, Malala Yousafzai continues to promote girls education and serves as an inspirational role model for millions of girls around the world. Malala publically debuted with a moving speech to the UN to mark her 16th birthday.  Malala tells her story of being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in newly published book, “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban.”

5) Most Perplexing Conflict: Syria’s civil war continues to escalate in intensity, complexity and scope. For more than two years, violent conflict has ravaged this country and has maimed or taken the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and produced an epic refugee crisis with estimates of 6.5 million people now forcibly displaced with little access to aid or security. Widely considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises partly due to the internal chemical weapons attacks that have killed more than 10,000 Syrians, international observers remain baffled as to a viable political (non-military) solution that would result in meaningful peace and lasting stability.

6) More than Meets the Eye: When Edward Snowden, former CIA worker, leaked classified details of the NSA surveillance program, he initiated a controversial, if not historic, debate on privacy vs. security in a post 9/11, digital world, questioning how far the government should go to protect the American public. At the core of this debate is whether the metadata surveillance collected in the name of national security is pursued at the expense of civil liberties, such as privacy rights and freedom of expression. Human rights defenders say current surveillance policies must be reformed to respect privacy and maintain freedom of speech. This is a debate worth following as the implications are serious and far-reaching. For more information click here.

7) Notable Movies: 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Anita and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

8) Favorite Reads: The Lemon Tree, The Glass Palace, Long Walk to Freedom, The Kitchen House, Strength in What Remains.

9) Favorite Tweets

@CivCenter: When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” -Kenyan proverb

@AmbassadorPower: Violence against women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. Equality can't come eventually; we must fight for it now.

10) Stunning Statistic: The NSA tracks 5 billion cell phone records daily!