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Criminal Justice Reform Activist Shares Inspirational Story

By Jonathan Scott

University of Mississippi

Susan Burton, a criminal justice reform leader who has rebuilt her life after being incarcerated, delivers the inaugural Dr. Jeanette Jennings Lecture on Oct. 26 at the University of Mississippi. Submitted photo

Susan Burton, a visionary and inspirational leader of the criminal justice reform movement, will give the inaugural Dr. Jeanette Jennings Lecture Series on Oct. 26 at the University of Mississippi.

Presented by the university’s African American studies and the Prison-to-College Pipeline programs, the 6 p.m. event in Bondurant Hall, Room 204C, is free and open to the public.

“We could not be prouder or more honored to host Ms. Burton, given the need for her voice within our community,” said Derrick Harriell, director of African American studies.

The lecture series, funded by an anonymous gift in 2022, honors Jennings, who became the first Black Ole Miss faculty member in 1970.

“Dr. Jennings was pivotal to the advancement of Black studies and the cradling of Black students,” said Harriell, who is also the Otillie Schillig Associate Professor of English.

Burton’s lecture is an official event in the observation of the university’s 175th anniversary celebration themed “A Legacy of Calling.”

Based in Los Angeles, Burton is a formerly incarcerated woman and advocate for restoring basic civil and human rights to those who have served time. Her ability to rebuild her life serves as a dramatic example of how others can break the cycle of imprisonment.

As Burton puts it: “Mistakes belong to the past. We belong to the future.”

She is author of the award-winning memoir, “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women” (The New Press, 2017).

She is also the founder of A New Way of Life, a nonprofit organization providing housing and other support to formerly incarcerated women. ANWOL’s approach to reentry is internationally recognized as an innovative model that creates welcoming and healing spaces for women to rejoin their communities after imprisonment while developing as leaders.

The impact of Burton’s work has been recognized through numerous awards, including the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Encore Purpose Prize and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award. She also received the NAACP Image Award and was named as one of the nation’s 18 New Civil Rights Leaders by the Los Angeles Times.

For more information about Burton’s lecture, contact Tracion Flood, program coordinator of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program and program manager of African American studies, at teflood@olemiss.edu or 662-915-5977.

To make a gift to the Dr. Jeanette Jennings Lecture Fund, click here. To learn about supporting the College of Liberal Arts and the African American studies program, contact Delia Childers, director of development, at dgchilde@olemiss.edu or 662-915-3086.

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