30 new activists, advocates graduate from Southern Poverty Law Center
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi has 30 new activists and advocates after Saturday’s graduation by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Department of Strategic Initiatives & Social Justice at Tougaloo College.
The new graduates were hand-picked for a new initiative, dubbed the Advocacy Institute.
Many of the graduates are formerly incarcerated people who, despite having been released from prison, are denied the right to vote, in some cases for the rest of their lives, by state laws.
At 23, Rasheid Davis was serving six years in prison for marijuana possession, but today he’s a small businessman in Jackson who leads marches and calls for criminal legal reform.
Saletheo Pereza is a published poet and a furniture store owner in Mississippi who walked around with a gun as a teenager.
Gail Wright Lowery is a 64-year-old public defender.
The three are among 22 fellows enrolled in the new, five-week community leadership program.
It’s designed to strengthen communities by educating and empowering emerging activists and advocates.
“I didn’t really know, to be honest, that there was help out there for people like me just trying to change things in our neighborhoods,” said Davis, 44. “I thought it was all groundwork. When I see people around me with the same passion for helping people in the community that I have, well, I feel like I have found a family. Now that I’ve learned there are a lot of other people advocating for their communities, it’s opened doors to me that I didn’t know were there.”
SPLC helped to train each participant on voting rights restoration, advocating for change through protest, community organizing for disenfranchised voters, and working with community partners.
“When there is an imbalance of power at the top, how do you counter that? By building power from the ground up,” said Waikinya Clanton, the SPLC’s state office director for Mississippi. “And so that’s how we’re looking at this advocacy institute. We are going to be teaching people how to build power; how to understand the rules of engagement; and how to work through and navigate the resources that are available to them, suffrage being one of them.”
Tougaloo College hosted Desmond Meade, founder of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, as the keynote speaker for commencement services.
Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2022 WLBT. All rights reserved.