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Community Read explores “The New Jim Crow”

Posted 09/04/14

Community Read logoIssues of race, crime and punishment will be explored through multiple perspectives and media when Fitchburg State University presents its 2014-15 Community Read, The New Jim Crow.

Written by legal scholar Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. Alexander argues instead that racial caste in America has not been ended, just redesigned. The book explores the concept that the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, relegating millions to a permanent second-class status.

In the Community Read, Fitchburg State faculty and staff will join with experts and artists from this region and beyond to explore the issues raised in Alexander’s controversial book. The public is invited to add their voices to the conversation as the University seeks to create community through communication. The Community Read is sponsored by the University’s Carl T. Witherell ’32 Fund.

Cover of "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander

The semester’s events start with a Constitution Day panel discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in Ellis White Lecture Hall in Hammond Hall. Panelists will include Massachusetts Department of Correction, Deputy Commissioner of the Prison Division Michael Grant, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., Worcester Superior Court Public Defender’s Office Attorney in Charge Michael S. Hussey and Fitchburg State Assistant Professor Eric Boehme, who will discuss race and incarceration; the Fair Sentencing Act; observations from the field; and other topics.

The University’s Third Thursday film series, bridging the campus and the city of Fitchburg, continues this year with films selected to spotlight other themes raised in The New Jim Crow. On Thursday, Sept. 18 at 4 p.m., the Academy Award-winning classic film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) will screen at the Fitchburg Public Library, 610 Main St. The film will be introduced by Professor Beth Walsh (criminal justice), who will also lead a post-screening discussion. Admission is free.

Films will also be screened on campus. On Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. in Ellis White Lecture Hall in Hammond Hall, the celebrated documentary The House I Live In (2012) will be shown. From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, this penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system reveals the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m. in Ellis White Lecture Hall in Hammond Hall, Massachusetts Parole Board Deputy Chief Parole Supervisor Lisa Redmond, a Fitchburg State alumna, will present a lecture on changes to mandatory drug sentences and criminal offender records laws. Admission is free and a reception will follow.

The work of award-winning photographer Lou Jones will be presented at the media wall in Conlon Hall, 316 Highland Ave., when Final Exposure: Portraits from Death Row is presented from Thursday, Oct. 9 through Wednesday, Nov. 12. Jones combines powerful images of death row inmates with revealing interviews and commentary in this extraordinary volume. These portraits and voices humanize the condemned men and women without minimizing the magnitude of their crimes or the pain of the victims and their families. Together, they open one’s eyes to the chilling reality of death row and challenge readers to question the morality of capital punishment. Admission is free.

The Third Thursday film series continues Thursday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. at the Fitchburg Public Library, 610 Main St., with a screening of Nothing But a Man (1964). The story focuses on a black couple – a railroad worker and a teacher – starting a new life together in a racist Southern town. The film will be introduced by former Fitchburg State librarian Mark Melchior, who will also lead a post-screening discussion. Admission is free.

On Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 5:30 p.m., the Fitchburg Public Library at 610 Main St. will feature a community book discussion of The New Jim Crow. The discussion will be led by Fitchburg State criminal justice faculty member Marcel Beausoleil. Admission is free.

Back on campus, the acclaimed film Fruitvale Station (2013) will screen on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. in Ellis White Lecture Hall in Hammond Hall. This Sundance award-winner follows the true events of a 22-year-old, loving father and beloved son on the last day of his life before being fatally shot by police on New Year’s Day 2009. Admission is free, and refreshments will be served.

The Third Thursday series wraps up for the fall semester on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Fitchburg Public Library, 610 Main St., with a showing of Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002). This extraordinary story of courage and faith is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Australia’s Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands. Professor Eric Budd (Political Science) will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion.

Starting Wednesday, Jan. 21, the art gallery in the Sanders Administration Building will feature The Inside/Outside Envelope Project by artist Phyllis Kornfeld. Envelope art is a long-standing tradition in prison art. Beautiful envelopes sent to loved ones communicate a deep connection. The Inside/Outside Envelope Project is expanding that connection out into the human family. Hundreds of thousands of men and women sit uselessly behind steel doors, a vast resource of untapped human potential. Inmates from around the country have donated their envelope art to benefit the Read Alliance, which serves at-risk kindergarten and first-graders by recruiting and training teens to provide structured one-to-one tutoring in reading.

The series continues in the spring on a lighter note with a performance by comedian W. Kamau Bell on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. in Kent Recital Hall in the Conlon Fine Arts Building, 367 North St. Just like skinny jeans, superhero movies and celebrity weight loss, racism continues to make a comeback. Comedian W. Kamau Bell is here to make (non)sense of all of it all. The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour is a hilarious exploration of the current state of America’s racism, combined with a little (unknown) history, a little PowerPoint and a whole bunch of Kamau. The Curve is a seamless mix of stand-up comedy, video and audio clips, personal stories and solo theatrical performance. One part manifesto, one part diatribe and several parts funny, this evening is sure to provide laughs and provoke thought. Be advised, the performance features mature comment. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, Fitchburg State alumni and free for Fitchburg State students and can be purchased at the Weston Box Office, 333 North St., which is open Thursday and Friday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tickets can also be ordered online by visiting the CenterStage page.

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