One Action, Two Punishments: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Action in Mississippi

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from double jeopardy: you cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Unfortunately, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not protect students who are being punished by both their schools and the courts for the same action.


There is an alarming trend in Mississippi. First, students get in trouble at school. Then, they get suspended or expelled from school for that conduct. That should be the end of the road. However, many of these students also get referred to youth court and face criminal charges for the exact same conduct for which they got suspended or expelled. These students are therefore being punished twice for the same behavior. 

Schools have the ability to refer students to youth court for the most severe conduct, such as acts committed with a deadly weapon or acts that, if committed by an adult, could be punished by life imprisonment or death; however, schools should not be referring students to youth court for behaviors that are commonplace. Students are getting referred to youth court and charged with crimes for behaviors like fighting and being disrespectful to teachers. We do not condone such behaviors, but they are behaviors that should be handled at school, not by our youth courts.

In addition to the fact that the vast majority of actions that lead to youth court referrals do not rise to the level that necessitates youth court involvement, school youth court referrals show the school-to-prison pipeline in action. In fact, this may be one of the most obvious examples of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon: schools are telling students they cannot come to school but instead face prosecution and possible jail time for an act that occurred in the classroom. This trend is even more worrying given that the majority of the clients that the Mississippi Center for Justice has served who are facing this dual punishment are students with disabilities. Thus, it appears that schools are attempting to shirk their responsibilities to students with disabilities under federal special education law by pushing them out of school and into court.

The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause might not protect students from getting punished by both the school and the court for the same action, but the Mississippi Center for Justice is here to help.

If you have a child or know a child who is facing a simultaneous school suspension or expulsion and youth court referral for the same alleged conduct, please contact us at (228) 435-7284.

Amelia Huckins is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Prove it! School Suspensions and Expulsions in Mississippi

If you have gone to court, or watched a legal or police drama, you are probably familiar with the concept of  “standard of proof.”  In civil cases juries are instructed that they must use the “preponderance of evidence” standard before ruling for a party. In criminal cases, before the Defendant is convicted they are told to consider whether they are  guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Even children are familiar with this concept.  Who hasn’t heard a young child taunt another telling them, “You can’t prove I did it!” 


This is the essence of basic fairness. Before you take away something from someone in the United States of America, whether it is property, an entitlement, or their freedom, you have to “prove it” using an adequate standard of proof.

Despite this, for years Mississippi would suspend and expel students  in proceedings without a standard of proof.  Thus a student accused of starting a fight, or phoning in a bomb threat, or having a weapon, could be expelled without any proof whatsoever. This was a clear and plain deprivation of their constitutional right to due process, and many students lost their right to a public education based on nothing more than unproven suspicions on the part of school administrators.

After MCJ began petitioning local school districts to adopt a standard of proof, and filed several lawsuits against districts which had failed to do so, the Legislature amended the law to provide that all long term suspensions and expulsions were required to employ what it termed a “standard of proof” of “substantial evidence.

The problem with this is that “substantial evidence” is not actually a standard of proof, and – even if it were – it does not rise to the level required to take away a constitutional right like education.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the deprivation of fundamental constitutional rights requires a standard of proof of “clear and convincing evidence.” Moreover, the law deprives school districts of the ability to adopt a constitutionally adequate standard of proof 

In consequence MCJ has introduced a bill with the help of Rep. Hank Zuber, H.B. 755, which is intended to require “clear and convincing evidence” before a student is suspended more than ten days or expelled.

MCJ has also filed just commenced litigation against a college which suspended an emotionally disabled 18  year old student for 12 months for having an autistic break down after a motor vehicle accident, all without employing a constitutionally adequate standard or proof in the suspension hearing.

If you have a child you feel was wrongfully suspended or expelled for something they did not do, or for which they should not have been punished, giveth Mississippi Center for Justice a call at 601.352.2269. We’re here to help!

Jeremy is the Educational Opportunities Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The Invisible Wall

As the partial government shutdown enters its second month, discussion of a physical border wall between the United States and Mexico continues to dominate the national discourse. While such a physical barrier raises countless legal, economic, and environmental concerns, we also cannot ignore the much larger and pernicious "invisible wall" that threatens our country and our bedrock values—a wall that creates profound social, economic, and legal barriers for immigrants, their families, and communities, and undermines the constitutional protections that we all enjoy.


This wall threatens everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status. It spans the flagrant and arbitrary disregard of legal protections for asylum seekers, the separation of immigrant families, increased use of prolonged “civil” detention of immigrants in removal proceedings, proposed penalties for certain immigrants who access life-saving nutritional assistance and medical care, and the calculated undermining of the judicial independence of our immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals. In our own state, this wall manifests itself through barriers to education for immigrant children and affordable housing to immigrant families, ostracizing “non-US citizen” labels on driver's licenses, and increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement checkpoints on our roads and in our communities.

While we must work to ensure national security, we must not do so at the peril of our individual liberties or our constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Our commitment to the rule of law must prioritize the constitutional principles of equal protection, due process, protections against unlawful searches/seizures, prolonged detention, and cruel and unusual punishment, as well as our treaty commitments to refugees and asylum-seekers.

We must all take affirmative steps to dismantle this “invisible wall” that divides our country, state, and communities. Here are some ways that you can take action:

⁃ If you are an attorney or speak a non-English language, contact us to volunteer to represent a

Mississippi immigrant family in need of legal representation.

⁃ Host an “Immigration 101” or a “Know Your Rights” presentation for your community. Contact us

for assistance.

⁃ Support immigrant-led organizations and businesses in your local community.

⁃ Advocate for policies that protect and support immigrants. For more information, visit:

⁃ Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC):

⁃ American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

⁃ Protecting Immigrant Families:

Amelia McGowan is a Staff Attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Government Shutdown Threatens Federal Programs that put Food on the Table for Mississippi Families

On December 22, 2018, key parts of the federal government shut down as a result of leadership gridlock over President Trump’s request for 5 billion dollars in funding for a US-Mexico border wall. With no compromise in sight and the longest shut down in US history, 800,000 federal employees and nine different departments, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA) which is responsible for administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), continue to be affected. 

SNAP, the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, helps put food on the table for millions of low income Americans, including 537,000 Mississippians. If the government shutdown continues, 1 in 6 Mississippians could experience major food assistance cut backs. More than 75% of SNAP beneficiaries in MS are in families with children.


On January 8th the USDA announced plans to help state agencies keep SNAP operational through February 2019 without cuts to benefits by encouraging states to make February benefits available by January 20th. For now, the USDA states that the program will operate as it would normally with the exception that February benefits will be issued early, on January 20th. Under the direction of the USDA, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) plans to issue February benefits to some households by January 20th; however, households who have submitted SNAP recertification applications and have not been processed or approved by January 15th can expect their normal scheduled payment of benefits in February with no early issuance. With limited funds available after January 20th, MDHS indicated that they will continue to process applications as they are received and distribute funds based on availability of federal dollars. Families that receive payments on January 20th will not receive another payment until their normal scheduled distribution in March. Officials are encouraging clients to do their best to make their benefits last through February. 

Unfortunately, USDA’s commitment to fund SNAP benefits to recipients through February does not extend to retailers who did not have the opportunity to recertify with USDA prior to the shutdown. As a result of the lack of certification, 2500 retailers nationwide are unable to accept SNAP payments until the government re-opens. If the shutdown continues, delayed SNAP payments could place additional strain on local emergency food assistance providers, like food banks and food pantries, as well as negatively impact some 3600 SNAP retailers/business owners in Mississippi. 

The USDA does not have the authority to extend SNAP benefits in March without congressional action, putting thousands of Mississippi households at undue risk for hunger and hardship. Our congressional leaders have a responsibility re-open the government and ensure that millions of Americans (not just SNAP recipients) are not at risk for financial hardship and hunger. 

Ask your senator to go to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the White House and demand the government re-open to stop the threat on federal programs that put food on the table for children and families in Mississippi. 

                  Cindy Hyde-Smith: (202) 224-5054

                  Roger Wicker: (202) 224-6253


USDA to Fund SNAP for February 2019, But Millions Face Cuts if Shutdown Continues

A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: State-by-State Fact Sheets

USDA Announces Plan to Protect SNAP Participants’ Access to SNAP in February

Kathryn Rehner is a policy associate with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Virginia College Leaves Students In Limbo

The holidays are generally a time of joy and rest for students. Having just finished finals, students spend the holidays relaxing after a difficult semester. However, for Virginia College students in Mississippi and across the nation, this holiday season was a time of stress and anxiety following a string of broken promises. Virginia College students abruptly became former Virginia College students when they arrived at school on December 6th to find the Virginia College campuses permanently closed.  

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 Many students arrived for class and were left, literally, out in the cold, standing in front of locked doors on a blustery, windy day. For those who had taken the bus, they stood in shock, with nowhere to go and no answers to their myriad of questions. Would they be able to get back their tuition money, the money they had spent on books? Would they be able to transfer? Would their credits work at different schools? The school had guaranteed many students jobs, would this still happen? The students had no answer to these questions on December 6th and many still lack an answer to these questions now.

 Unfortunately, this treatment was not new for the Virginia College students. The school had consistently disappointed the students it had alleged to help. Students had been promised coursework that was never offered, guaranteed jobs that never existed and deprived of an education that they had paid substantial sums to receive. Virginia College had even promised to remain open through August 2019 and could not even hold to this simple promise. At the start of this new year, with so many hopes and dreams dashed, the students must add one further question to their lives: what will they do now? 

If are a Virginia College student or know one, please have them call the Mississippi Center for Justice at 769-230-0529 as we help to provide solutions to some of the many questions these students face.

Samuel Reese is an attorney with the Consumer Protection division of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Mississippi Center for Justice Supports Bipartisan Farm Bill Protecting SNAP

 Today the President signed the Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, into law. In response to the announcement, the Mississippi Center for Justice issued the following statement:

“The Mississippi Center for Justice commends Congress for passing a bipartisan Farm Bill that safeguards essential federal nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s most vital and cost-effective anti-hunger lifeline. By protecting and making modest improvements to SNAP, this legislation continues critical nutrition assistance to millions of Americans and more than half a million Mississippians who struggle to afford groceries and keep food on the table, including working families, children, veterans, people with disabilities, and elderly adults. We applaud Congress for rejecting the House Farm Bill’s proposed nutrition provisions, which would have punished and stigmatized struggling Americans and unraveled decades of progress in our nation’s war on hunger by ending or dramatically cutting SNAP benefits for nearly 2 million people. We are also heartened to see the Farm Bill’s increased investment in programs that strengthen healthy food access for struggling patients who are at risk of or have a diet-related condition such as diabetes. By harnessing the power of food as medicine, these investments—including a new Produce Prescription Program—have the potential to improve food security, combat chronic health conditions, and reduce associated health care costs in Mississippi and around the country. 

 While the final Farm Bill gives us all something to celebrate this holiday season, we have significant work ahead in our fight for a food secure Mississippi. Today, 1 in 5 Mississippians struggle against hunger, with direct harms to their health, economic stability, and productivity. The Mississippi Center for Justice is committed to working with Congress, state policymakers, advocates, and community members to build on the Farm Bill’s foundation and advance healthy food access for all.”

For more information on the Mississippi Center for Justice’s work to end food insecurity and protect and strengthen access to public benefits in Mississippi, contact Madeline Morcelle, staff attorney at, or Kathryn Rehner, policy associate, at

Protect Families: Join the Mississippi Center for Justice in Opposing the Public Charge Rule


On Friday, the Mississippi Center for Justice submitted a comment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) strongly opposing DHS’s deeply flawed proposed regulation on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” which would catalyze profound and irreparable racial and economic injustices in Mississippi and across the country, and erect insurmountable obstacles to permanent residency and admission to the U.S. If enacted, it would force millions of lawfully present immigrants and their families across the U.S. who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to make an impossible choice between lawfully accessing critical food, health care, and housing assistance, and staying together.


We estimate that the proposed rule would cause a total of 73,808 lawfully present noncitizen immigrants and their family members across Mississippi—especially in communities of color—to disenroll or forgo enrollment from critical public benefits that support their health, food security, housing stability, productivity, and self-sufficiency. Drawing on our legal service work and engagement with immigrants and their families, our comment details early signs of the Proposed Rule’s chilling effect on public benefits participation among immigrants and their families, including U.S.-born citizen children.


Please join us in standing up for immigrant families and denouncing this deeply flawed proposed public charge rule. The deadline to submit a comment is Monday, December 10, 2018.


Submit Your Comment Today.

 Read MCJ’s comment.

For more information about the proposed rule or the Mississippi Center for Justice’s food security and public benefits advocacy, please contact Madeline Morcelle

#GiveJustice on this #GivingTuesday

 Today is #GivingTuesday –a global day dedicated to giving and building awareness for organizations that help people in need.

Read this story below from our client Roy for an example of how your gift to the Mississippi Center for Justice goes to fight for justice for Mississippians. 

Please let us count on you to help Mississippians like Roy. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution gift to the Mississippi Center for Justice today 

Roy Harness served three years in the Army and earned a reputation as a hard worker for Southern California Edison Power Company before a drug addiction landed him in prison.

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Harness was released, overcame his addiction, and returned to school. He has since graduated cum laude from Jackson State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and is on track to receive his master’s degree in 2019. His goal is to become a social worker with the Veterans’ Administration.

 “I hope I can inspire and empower other veterans who are suffering the way I suffered,” Harness says.

Having beaten his addiction, reconciled with his family, worked hard for his education, and dedicated his life to helping others, Harness is now focused on another goal. He would like to regain his right to vote.

“I did my time. I’m clean and sober and I’m an educated, productive citizen,” Harness says. “I want to be in a position to make a difference and that means being a part of the decision making process in our state.”

Under Mississippi law, those convicted of certain crimes are permanently banned from voting. The law is a part of the state’s 1890 constitution, which was drafted with the express purpose of denying African Americans the right to vote. 

 Harness is one of the plaintiffs in a case filed by MCJ challenging the 1890 provision. The ultimate goal is to restore the right to vote for thousands of Mississippians denied that right under this archaic, discriminatory law.

For Roy Harness, the opportunity to represent so many others in his situation through the lawsuit is one more form of redemption.

 “Who would have thought that a former crack head, homeless scrub would be in a master’s program, a voice for veterans, and an advocate for voting rights?” Harness says with a proud smile. “Sometimes I wonder, why did it take me so long to reach this point? But now, I see the value in these experiences and what they gave me to offer to others. And that feels good.”


Food pantries can't do it alone. SNAP is vital lifeline for Mississippians.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to celebrate and be grateful for all we have. Feeding the hungry and caring for the poor are central tenets of the Methodist faith and so many others. The holiday season reminds us of our obligation to our brothers and sisters to guarantee that those among us who are struggling to make ends meet can feed their families.

Wells United Methodist Church Food Pantry as well as so many others are doing crucial work to provide assistance to our neighbors and friends who are hungry. Each Tuesday a diverse group of Wells UMC volunteers attempt to do our very best to help others in need. So many organizations of faith embody the values of caring for poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless. The Wells UMC food pantry hopes to be doing just that. On most Tuesdays, the pantry will serve on average 80 brothers and sisters in need. This Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, the pantry served nearly 150 people who were able to bring extra food home to their families. We are grateful to have helped so many but unfortunately, that work is never done, and it is never more important than during the holiday season.


However, food pantries can’t do this work alone. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, plays a critical role in helping 1 in 6 Mississippians put food on the table year-round, including families with children, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities (CBPP, 2017). According to Feeding America, SNAP provides 12 meals for every 1 meal that Feeding America’s network of food bank provides.

This holiday season, our elected leaders can help members of our community for years to come, far beyond these winter months, by protecting SNAP. Congress is currently working to finalize a farm bill, landmark legislation that is passed every five years and funds food assistance and other priorities. With many still struggling to get by, it’s crucial that lawmakers pass a farm bill that protects SNAP.

SNAP doesn’t just help fulfill our societal obligation to feed the hungry – it is also one of the best anti-poverty programs we have. In Mississippi alone, SNAP keeps 136,000 of our community members out of poverty, including 64,000 children (CBPP, 2017). For the good of our state, we need Congress to pass a final farm bill that supports and strengthens SNAP.

This Thanksgiving, we have the chance to ensure that the generosity and compassion we all demonstrate has a long-term impact. We hope that all Mississippians of faith and conscience will join us in urging leaders in Congress to pass a farm bill that protects and strengthens SNAP and reject any efforts to cut or make harmful changes to this crucial assistance for our friends and neighbors. The moral principles of our faith demand it.


Charles Araujo is the Volunteer Food Pantry Coordinator for Wells UMC.

Kathryn Rehner is a Policy Associate with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Medical-Legal Partnerships are a Roadmap to a Healthier Mississippi


The Mississippi Center for Justice is celebrating the 5thyear of its medical-legal partnership in collaboration with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation.  We have witnessed the positive impact this partnership has made by providing a holistic approach to healthcare.  We have been the voice of countless individuals seeking legal assistance to improve their health outcomes and are committed to reducing the legal barriers that negatively impact an individual’s health.  

From lack of transportation to rising medical costs, our state’s vulnerable population is faced with many barriers.  Fortunately, access to holistic healthcare does not have to be an added hurdle.  Through the establishment of medical-legal partnerships, a doctor can confidently treat the asthma patient knowing the presence of mold in the patient’s apartment will be addressed by an attorney.  A patient may report improved mental health after consulting an attorney about his/her financially-induced stress as a result of being denied Social Security benefits. The opportunities are endless. Medical-legal partnerships epitomize the true concept of holistic healthcare and are the roadmaps to a healthier Mississippi. 


Alecia Reed-Owens is a Staff Attorney in the Health Law Division of the Mississippi Center for Justice. 

A Nod to National HIV Testing Day

National HIV Testing Day is observed on June 27th. This year’s theme is “Doing it My Way, Testing for HIV”.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV today, but 1 in 7 of them DO NOTknow it. Unfortunately, these numbers are not surprising when viewed with the significant role stigma plays in driving an individual’s decision to get tested or not. As we celebrate National HIV Testing Day, take a look at some the ways HIV testing is crucial to you and our community:

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  • Early HIV detection is beneficial because the sooner an individual starts treatment, the less likely he or she will get sick because of opportunistic infections.
  • An individual who does not know his or her status is more likely to transmit the virus than an individual who knows.
  • Knowing your status gives you the ultimate control of your healthcare so that you can adequately advocate for yourself.
  • May encourage someone else in your family or the community to get tested.
  • Send the message that HIV stigma does not win!

As the Mississippi Center for Justice continues to fight for the rights of individuals living with HIV, we encourage you to get tested to know your status.  To find a testing center near you, click here

Alecia Reed-Owens is a Staff Attorney in the Health Law Division of the Mississippi Center for Justice.



Let's Get all the Facts, FIRST!

MCJ’s Education Campaign recently represented an autistic child who wore his uncle’s jacket to school.  

Unbeknown to him it had some .22 caliber bullets in the pocket, but no gun.  When a bullet fell out of the jacket’s pocket, the school  immediately called law enforcement, referred him to Youth Court for “disturbing a public school session,” and suspended him.  

Despite the fact he was SPED student no manifestation determination was done as required by federal law, nor was any there any attempt to comply with the specific state statute governing disruptive students Miss. Code 37-11-18.1 which requires a behavioral modification plan and psychological evaluation.  

The Court granted our Motion to Dismiss holding that the general Disturbing Public School Sessions or Meetings Miss. Code 37-11-23 was not applicable to the event, and that the school should have followed the IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) law and state statute specifically directed at disruptive students.

The knee-jerk referral of students to the criminal justice system without regard to the facts of the case or their protection under state and federal law is what creates the notorious “schoolhouse to jailhouse” pipeline.  

If you have a child you think was inappropriately referred to law enforcement, MCJ would be happy to review the your case to see if his or her rights were violated. Contact us here

"I didn't really understand America until I understood Mississippi"

When we attend out-of-state gatherings, it’s deeply touching to learn the many ways that our guests and supporters care about the lives of Mississippians, and how this interest intersects with their own lives and values. 


In late April, we were honored to be hosted by Aviva Futorian for an update with our supporters in Chicago.  Her participation in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer spurred Aviva to champion the Hill Country Project, and capture the oral histories of civil rights workers in Benton County. But she also values the Mississippi Center for Justice as a home-grown force for change across the state and she recently joined us for our Great Mississippi Road Trip.

Among those who attended Aviva’s gathering were philanthropists Lucy and Peter Ascoli. Peter’s grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, formed a powerful education partnership between Jewish and African American communities in the Deep South and the Ascolis have continued a strong commitment to social justice philanthropy.  John Riley and his wife Maryellen also drove in, after spending months in John’s hometown, Memphis, paying tribute to his brother, former MCJ board member George Riley, with a series of exhibits, performances, and convenings tied to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also were delighted to see former board member Doressia Hutton and Bonnie Allen, now the executive director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, who previously worked for MCJ as it grew by leaps and bounds. 

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While in Chicago, I spent an afternoon with Wheeler Parker driving across the south and west side of Chicago to better understand the communities in which he grew up with his cousin Emmett Till. Schools, civic centers, and other landmarks bore Emmett’s name and his memory remained strong among those who knew him. MCJ has been fortunate to have Wheeler and his wife Marvel join us for our Delta Road Trips for many years as Wheeler brought to life that pivotal encounter at Bryant Grocery that sparked the modern civil rights movement.  On the day before our Potomac reception, we met with pro bono counsel at Latham and Watkins to recruit a team to advocate on behalf of the National Park Service feasibility study of Bryant Grocery as a national historic asset.

The next week in Washington, D.C., an enthusiastic crowd of over two hundred gathered to pay tribute to Dr. Joyce Ladner and Robert Raben. Joyce launched a long distance run for civil rights in her teens from Palmer’s Crossing, Mississippi, and took part in or helped to organize actions stretching from the Mississippi backwoods to the March on Washington and beyond. Please spend the time to see Joyce reflect the dramatic first moment when she saw a young Marian Wright Edelman running down a street in search of a payphone in Greenwood, Mississippi. Robert Raben, a Miami native, started as a law clerk at the Mississippi Supreme Court and rose to prominence at the Department of Justice under President Clinton. Robert’s vivid account of how his life in the law became entwined with Mississippi helps to explain how he became so intensely attached to the cause of justice in our state.

Our Potomac gathering is filled with too many friends and supporters to single out individuals, but you can get a sense of the enthusiasm and breadth of the group by looking through our Flickr photostream. We saw so many allies who helped to launch and sustain MCJ over the past 15 years with their time and financial support. I was personally touched by how many attended who came to Mississippi’s aid after Hurricane Katrina and have remained invested in the mission of justice that we pursue. Some of these volunteers were housed in our homes in the immediate aftermath of the storm, when housing was impossible to find. They now have Mississippi family for life.


Before the reception, several of us visited the National Museum of African American History. It was a humbling experience to work our way through the crowded exhibits tracing the evolution from slavery to emancipation to Jim Crow to Civil Rights. 


Last week, supporter David Freudenthal, head of government relations at Carnegie Hall, hosted a group of about 30 guests for a delightful evening at his Central Park South apartment in New York City. This was David’s second reception to help MCJ increase awareness of and raise money for our work, for which we are enormously grateful. His career in public service and government relations has nurtured his concern for the problems that plague our society and the ways to ameliorate them.  Our impact litigation project leader Rob McDuff and I brought our friends up to date on our work and took questions. Joanne Edgar, a supremely gifted writer and co-founder of MS magazine who went to college in Mississippi in the 1960s, said, “Tell them about the Road Trip.” I asked writer and photographer Eric Etheridge, to recount the day when Hank Thomas, a Freedom Rider, joined us to return to Parchman prison for a tour of the maximum security building where he and other young activists were held for weeks as they refused to make bail.  Eric has a new edition of his incredible book on the Freedom Riders, Breach of Peace, coming out later this year. Hank’s own account is absolutely riveting and can be found here

What so many of these people share in common is a moment in their lives where they responded to the call for justice in their own way using what was within their power.  Sometimes it is through organizing or civil disobedience, sometimes it is litigation, and sometimes, like our friend Emilie Miller who appealed for volunteers at the end of this event, it is simply stepping in with a spirit of service. Emilie said, “A lot of people asked me "Why should I care about Mississippi? What does Mississippi have to do with me? But after going there I realized-- I didn't really understand America until I understood Mississippi..."

The rewards are great and lifelong, as so many have told us. We hope you will agree. 

To learn more about how to volunteer, go to this link.