Talking Criminal Justice Reform with Shaka Senghor


[Announcer] We’re excited to start off with a leading voice in
criminal justice forum. Shaka Senghor, Shaka is the Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, consulting producer of the
OWN docu-series Released, and a New York Times Best
Selling Author for his memoir, Righting My Wrongs, Life Death and Redemption in an American Prison. He is also selected as
one of the 24 icons, to be featured in the upcoming Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service entitled, Men of Change Debuting in Fall 2019 and he’s here to share a
gripping story with all of us. Please put your hands together and welcome Shaka to the stage. (clapping) (crowd cheering) (upbeat music) Nineteen eight six, I was fourteen years old and I thought I was gonna die. I was deeply emerged in
the crack cocaine trade. When I found myself, beaten nearly to death, childhood friend murdered and eventually addicted to crack cocaine. In nineteen ninety, march eighth, I was standing on the corner, on the West Side of Detroit when I was shot multiple times. I was taken to the hospital, they took two of the bullets out left one in patched my up and I was right back in the community. Not one doctor, psychologist, social worker, nurse or adult extended to me what I
believe is a universal sign of compassion and empathy. A simple hug to say you’ll be alright. So instead I returned to my community with this volatile recipe that’s all too common in
communities across the country. I was angry, I was bitter, I was paranoid. And I began to carry a gun everyday. Sixteen months later, July nineteen ninety one, at nearly two o’clock in the morning, I got into a conflict and I fired several shots tragically causing a man’s death. I was subsequently arrested, charged with open murder and sentenced to seventeen
to forty years in prison. When I entered prison I was bitter, I was angry. I found myself getting
in more and more trouble. By nineteen ninety nine, I was beginning what turned out to be a
four and a half year stretch in solitary confinement where I remained on 23 hour lock down, five days a week, 24 hour lockdown the
other two days a week. But despite this, while I was in that environment, I made a commitment to myself. I didn’t know if I was
getting out of prison or if I was every getting
out of solitary confinement. But the commitment I made was to actually up stand in service of
young men in my community who was growing up with
the same type of trauma’s that I had experienced. 2008, I go up for parole they deny me. They send me back a second time 2009, I go back up for parole
they deny me again. And finally after three tries, June twenty second two thousand ten, I walked out of prison for the first time in nineteen years after enduring seven years
of solitary confinement in one of the most barbaric
and inhumane environments one can imagine. On the way out of the door, an officer told me this. I’ll see you back in six months. But here’s what actually happened. I came home committed to mentoring young men in my community. In 2011, I was nominated for
the Black Male Engagement Leadership Award. In 2012, I won that award even though they said I
would be back in prison in six months. Later on in 2012, I began a part of a MIT
Media Lab Fellowship, even though they said I
would be back in prison in six months. In 2013, I started teaching
at the University of Michigan where I started a class
that is on it’s six year. Even though they said I
would be back in prison in six months. I won a Kellogg Fellowship that same year, and followed that up
in 2014 a Talk of Text thirtieth anniversary, which currently has over one
point five million views, even though they said I
would be back in prison in six months. In 2015, I get a phone call, woman was on the other end she says, Hey Shaka. What does your schedule look like in June? I said well, you know its pretty flexible. She calls me back the next day and says, you know, I was calling to
ask you about your schedule because Oprah Winfrey
would love to interview you and I just wanted to
know if you’re available. (crowd laughing) I was like, Well let me, check this
out and see if I can (crowd laughing) – slide over up in there. (crowd laughing) – I do an interview with Oprah that was supposed to be 45 minutes , it turns into a three and
a half hour conversation. She went on to say, that it was not only one
of the best conversations of her career but it was
one of the best interviews in her life. Then she went on to text me, that out of thirty seven
thousand five hundred interviews, I was on her top five. I mean you know ’cause
Oprah do be texting me. (crowd laughing) – On March eighth, 26 years after I got shot, my memoir debuted on the New
York Times Best Seller list. Even though they said I
would be back in prison in six months. (crowd clapping) (crowd cheering) – Thank you. A full circle moment for me happened exactly at this time, in February of 2017. I was in San Francisco on book tour when I was hanging out
with one of my friends who was supposed to be
going with dinner with, President Obama. And instead he decided to come to my book release party. That’s a real friend. But the next day he said, well I at least want to pay me respects to the President in his team. Which he did and I joined him I was sitting in the car waiting. And then I was invited to come inside. And I remember thinking to
myself as I took those steps walking inside about this
journey of redemption. And I walked in and
there was the President. And he was like so I heard you got a book. (crowd laughing) I was like well, well Mr President I do have a book. (crowd laughing) And he was like, So the President can’t get a book? (crowd laughing) Now listen, I am from Detroit man
where we hustle hard. (crowd laughing) And of all the days I did not have a book, it would happen to be that book. But guess what I did yesterday? I gave him that book. (crowd cheering) (crowd clapping) – I wanna close with this. In 2018, I assumed the
position of Executive Director of Anti-Recidivism Coalition. An organization that serves men and women coming home from prison. Out of 54 staff members, 68% have been system impacted. Meaning they have been in prison from anywhere from
three years to 31 years. They are some of the most
incredible human beings I know. They stand in service of young men and young women of color with a peer to peer model because we have the real lived experience. So even if they said that
I would be back in prison in six months, here it is. I’m able to serve my people in a meaningful way. And as I close out there’s a couple things that I wanna tell you about, in regards to the reason why I just shared all that information. Some will consider it bragging’, just a little bit. I mean I did, you gotta flex on ’em
let ’em know this is. (crowd laughing) But I share that because
the narrative around men of color, young women of color, has been misconstrued. And I believe that our journey of tragedy to triumph is
something that’s important. So that every young man
of color in this room can understand no matter where you start at, if you make a commitment
to lifting yourself up, and lifting others as you climb. That you can produce
very different outcomes. And secondly, don’t accept somebody else’s narrative. ‘Cause even though they told me I’d be back in prison months, eight and a half years later I’m standing here serving my people. Salute y’all. (crowd clapping) I appreciate y’all. (crowd cheering) Thank you, thank you I appreciate y’all.

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