To celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day this year, let’s amplify the voices of veterans who speak truth to power and shed light on the breadth of the American experience. These renowned speakers utilize storytelling, journalistic acumen, and profound leadership to share powerful lessons about bridging the divides in our society.
Jarrett Adams is a criminal and civil rights attorney who saw first-hand the failures of the justice system, especially for people of color. At the age of 17, he was convicted of a crime he did not commit and was sentenced to 28 years in maximum security. While incarcerated, Adams studied the legal system that wronged him and how his constitutional rights were violated. In 2007, after serving nearly 10 years and filing multiple appeals, Adams was exonerated with the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. Adams pursued a career in law to advocate for the wrongful convicted and undeserved. With his powerful story of hope, he is a sought-after motivational speaker who shares his moving story, advocates for criminal justice reform, and reminds audiences about the power of faith and hope.
At age 13, Ian Manuel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for attempted murder after his participation in a botched robbery. Incarcerated as a teenager, Manuel served 26 years in prison—18 of which were in solitary confinement—until Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative secured his release in 2016. In his new memoir, My Time Will Come, as well as his moving talks, Manuel shares his experiences under the harrowing circumstances of incarceration and solitary, and tells the story of how he managed—through his faith and poetry—to endure them and survive. A fierce advocate for criminal justice reform and improved services for incarcerated individuals, he encourages audiences to lead with empathy and rethink what justice and redemption really mean.
Brittany K. Barnett is an award-winning attorney and entrepreneur. Renowned for working on Alice Marie Johnson’s legal team in a case that brought Kim Kardashian West to the White House, Barnett has devoted her career to transforming the flawed American criminal justice system and our understanding of incarceration. Her memoir, A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom, is an Amazon Editor’s pick and is nominated for an NAACP Image Award. The moving book takes readers through Barnett’s beginnings as a law student, to her encounter with a criminal drug case that changed the trajectory of her career. In illuminating talks, Barnett sheds valuable light on our prison systems from the perspective of her multiple roles as a lawyer, a non-profit founder, and an entrepreneur.
A nationally-recognized advocate for prison reform, Shaka Senghor is the author of the bestselling Writing My Wrongs and the founder and president of #BeyondPrisons. Drawing on his 19 years in prison, including seven in solitary confinement, Senghor speaks to the human impact of mass incarceration and makes clear that people are more than their worst mistakes. As a speaker, Senghor connects with audiences ranging from at-risk youth to communities eager to protect and uplift their most vulnerable members.
Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and founder of Georgetown’s Innovative Policing Program. She has served as a reserve police officer with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and has worked previously at the Defense Department, the State Department and for several international human rights organizations. She is also the author of the 2016 New York Times Notable Book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything. Her most recent book, Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City, is a thoughtful, provocative insider account of the complicated relationships among authority, violence, gender, race, and other elements. She speaks on racism, police reform, and the over-criminalization of everyday life in a thoroughly dysfunctional society, as well as on foreign policy and the military.
Sister Helen Prejean’s activism against the death penalty was sparked when she witnessed the execution of a condemned man. Since then, she’s been a tireless advocate for men and women sentenced to die while incarcerated. She also speaks about how class, race, and economics factor into the criminal justice system Prejean’s book documenting her activism, Dead Men Walking, sparked a national dialogue on capital punishment and remains popular in reading groups and college campuses nationwide. Her latest book, River of Fire, is the deeply personal and profoundly moving account of the spiritual journey that led her to begin and continue pursuing this work. Prejean is a masterful storyteller who inspires audiences both religious and secular alike to fight for justice and approach the world with compassion.