SUNDAY, MAY 16, 2021 2:30pm
Topic: Systemic racism as reflected in the history and current state of criminal justice.
Panelists: Mrs. Alesha Judkins, Capt. Ronnie Partlow, Leslie Faith Jones, & Mr. Cliff Johnson
Committee for King invites the community to engage in a learning opportunity about an important topic: systemic racism and its effect on education, health/wellness, banking/finance, and criminal justice. In partnership with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, the organization offers a series of five online sessions, moderated by Winter Institute staff member Mr. Von Gordon, on the third Sundays of the months of January through May at 2:30 p.m. The initial session was held over MLK Weekend and introduced the topics, featuring five panelists with deep knowledge of the four subject areas. The recorded session is available for viewing on committeeforking.org. Attendees can sign up for future sessions by accessing a Zoom meeting link on the website. The sessions will also be livestreamed on Facebook page Committee.for.King.
Future sessions will include additional panelists and offer some interactivity with attendees. The February 21st panel will focus on the history of systemic racism on education, and the current state of the issue. Panelists will be Dr. Cathy Grace, Dr. Rob Picou, Mr. Kenneth Wheeler, and Mr. Jake McGraw. The March 21st panel highlights health and wellness, with panelists Dr. Sandra Melvin, Dr. Vernon Rayford, and Mr. Steve Holland. The April 18th panel highlights banking/finance with panelist Mr. Kiyadh Burt, along with others TBA. The May 16th panel highlights criminal justice, with panelists Ms. Leslie Faith Jones, Lt. Ronnie Partlow, Alesha Judkins, and Cliff Johnson. For more information about the sessions, go to committeeforking.org.
Committee for King began in 1986 as a community organization dedicated to seeking love, compassion, respect, and racial harmony for all people. We plan and implement annual MLK weekend events for Tupelo, Lee County, and Northeast Mississippi. The online panel discussion is an outgrowth of the organization’s interest in actively engaging with the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We value partnerships and appreciate the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation’s support with this meaningful series.
Alesha Judkins currently serves as the Mississippi State Director of Criminal Justice Reform for FWD.us where she is an advocate for sentencing reforms in the state, building a coalition with local partners, and helping to resource groups doing important work in the criminal justice realm. She received her bachelor's degrees in International Studies and French from Hollins University in Roanoke Virginia. After graduation, she returned to her hometown of Montgomery Alabama and began her professional career by teaching for two years. In 2008, she was hired as a Justice Fellow with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Alesha worked one on one with clients during their re-entry process, conducted mitigating interviews for clients on Alabama’s death row, and conducted research and investigations for a major report that EJI released entitled: Illegal Race Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy. In 2011, Alesha relocated to Jackson, Mississippi to join the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in their MS office where she worked with youth and adults in Mississippi’s prisons investigating unconstitutional living conditions. She was eventually promoted to the position of Director of Community Advocates and Outreach Paralegals and appointed to serve on SPLC’s Legal Leadership team. Alesha is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Junior League of Jackson and she is also an ordained minister whose faith fuels her passion to fight for those the rest of the world has deemed unworthy. She believes that in the words of Bryan Stevenson, "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."
Cliff Johnson is the Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and a member of the faculty at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He oversees the Center’s litigation efforts and provides instruction and supervision to students participating in the MacArthur Justice Clinic. Under Johnson’s direction, the MacArthur Justice Center at UM Law has successfully litigated cases challenging practices such as the widespread use of illegal and excessive bail, the operation of “debtors’ prisons” throughout Mississippi, the denial of appointed counsel for indigent defendants, illegal sentencing of juvenile offenders, long-term incarceration of mentally ill detainees, and the failure to provide inmates with decent prison conditions. He also is involved in a wide range of education and advocacy efforts addressing criminal justice reform in Mississippi and has made more than 100 presentations nationally and internationally concerning criminal justice and civil rights topics. In 2016, Johnson was recognized as a Public Justice National Trial Lawyer of the Year for his role as part of a legal team challenging bail abuses throughout the South. He was named Mississippi Trial Lawyer of the Year for 2017-18 by the Mississippi Association for Justice and one of “Mississippi’s Leading Attorneys” by the Mississippi Business Journal in 2017. In 2019, Johnson was inducted as a Mississippi Bar Foundation Fellow, that organization’s highest honor.
Prior to joining the faculty at UM Law, Johnson practiced law in Mississippi for more than 20 years. After a federal clerkship and three years as an associate at the Jackson, Mississippi law firm of Butler Snow, Johnson worked for five years as an Assistant United States Attorney during the Clinton administration. During his tenure with DOJ, he received the Inspector General’s Integrity Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Immediately prior to joining the MacArthur Justice Center, he was a partner for 13 years at the Jackson law firm of Pigott & Johnson, where he handled a wide variety of complex civil and criminal matters. He has been selected as a Mid-South Super Lawyer and listed in Best Lawyers in America. During 2005-2006, Johnson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden. While in Sweden, he taught Law and History of the American Civil Rights Movement at the Institute and Lund University Law School. Professor Johnson also conducted research and lectured throughout Sweden on the political and social challenges resulting from Sweden’s immigration policy and integration efforts. Since 2006, Professor Johnson has lectured in Sweden annually, including speeches at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm and Wallenberg Institute graduation ceremonies. He returns to Stockholm each year to serve as moderator of an international symposium for human rights lawyers from developing countries. Professor Johnson received his B.A. in Political Science, with high honors and special distinction, from Mississippi College in 1989 and his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1992, where he was a Charles Evans Hughes Fellow and a member of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.
Vondaris “Von” Gordon is a native of Moorhead, MS, in Sunflower County. He joined the Institute to develop and coordinate youth programs as Youth Engagement Coordinator. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he was a student leader and helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. He served as a founding board member of the Winter Institute and the only student representative.
Von has worked in the private sector in franchise and corporate multi-unit restaurant operations and in business development for one of Pepsi’s top franchise bottlers. Von is the married father of three, and he is passionate about equipping youth to build stronger communities through education, empowerment, and racial healing. He thinks the best salads in the world are the ones with no dressing.