Upcoming Events

Exodus: Building a Movement to End Mass Incarceration and Mass Detention

September 6, 2019 @ 5:00 pm – September 7, 2019 @ 7:00 pm
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
Benjamin Perry

On September 6 and 7, 2019, Color Of Change, Define American, and Union Theological Seminary will host a symposium on mass incarceration and mass detention at Union’s campus in New York City. For too long, these issues have been treated as if they were wholly distinct when, in fact, the system that seeks to criminalize and disenfranchise communities of color is the same as that which otherizes and dehumanizes migrants. It’s time for faith leaders, journalists and politicians to reject these lies, and the white supremacist ideology that undergirds them.

Can’t attend in person? All Mainstage Presentations will be live-streamed here.

At the September gathering activists, faith leaders, experts, and directly impacted people will join together for a two-day, interactive symposium on how to dismantle these unjust systems. Rashad Robinson, Jose Antonio Vargas, Desmond Meade and Michelle Alexander will deliver keynote addresses. Attendees will understand mass incarceration and mass detention more deeply, learn concrete skills to confront them, and begin to envision what a just society would look like.

Friday, September 6

3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.: Check-In
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Opening Mainstage featuring DeAnna Hoskins, Darrell Bennett, Izabel Solis and Charles Moore (James Chapel)
A conversation between formerly incarcerated people and an immigration activist about the impacts of mass incarceration and mass detention on communities.
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.: Welcome Reception (Rotunda)

Saturday, September 7

8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.: Breakfast (1st Floor Lounge, The Pit)
9:00 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.: Workshop 1
During each workshop session, participants will have the opportunity to choose the topic and presenter best suited to their work.

Workshop 1 Options:
Working Through News Media to Reshape Narrative with Marcia Davis
Influence of Social Media on Cultural Campaigns with Anne Faustin Davis, Khadija Gurnah, and Brandon Felton
Community Organizing on Issues of Mass Incarceration and Mass Detention with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis

10:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m.: Mainstage Presentation—Present State of Mass Incarceration and Mass Detention, featuring Rashad Robinson (James Chapel)
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch Conversation—How policy makers and cultural change agents can work together for justice, featuring Ryan Eller (James Chapel)
1:10 p.m. – 2:40 p.m.: Workshop 2

Workshop 2 Options:
Spiritual Foundations of White Supremacy with Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Tyranny in Small Numbers: An Asian American & Pacific Islander Reality in the Intersection of Criminal Justice and Immigration with Eddy Zheng
Borders and Blocks: Ending Law Enforcement Violence with Derecka Purnell, Rev. Nyle Fort, Dr. Alex Vitale and Ravi Ragbir

3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.: Mainstage Presentation—Envisioning a Moral Future, featuring Michelle Alexander, Jose Antonio Vargas and Desmond Meade (James Chapel)


Michelle Alexander is the Visiting Professor of Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. A highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar, and best-selling author, her award-winning book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, helped to spark a national debate about the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States, and inspired racial justice organizing and advocacy efforts nationwide. Numerous commentators have dubbed The New Jim Crow “the bible of a social movement,” and the book has become a staple of university curriculums, advocacy trainings, reading groups, and faith-based study circles.   Alexander has been featured on national radio and television media outlets, including, among others, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Bill Moyers Journal, the Tavis Smiley Show, MSNBC, C-Span, and Democracy Now!  She has also written for numerous publications including, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post.

Desmond Meade is a formerly homeless returning citizen who overcame many obstacles to eventually become the President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law. As President of the FRRC, he led the FRRC to a historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century, and brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida. Honored for his efforts, Desmond was named  Central Floridian and Floridian of the Year. Desmond has testified before Congressional members and staffers, and was a part of a delegation to the United Nations where he gave testimony regarding disenfranchisement in Florida. Desmond orchestrated a historic meeting at the White House between returning citizens and the President Obama’s administration.

Rashad Robinson is President of Color Of Change, a leading online racial justice organization. Driven by more than 1.4 million members working to build political and cultural power for Black communities, Color Of Change is creating a more human and less hostile world for all people in America. Color Of Change uses an innovative combination of technology, research, media savvy and local community engagement to build powerful movements and change the industries that affect Black people’s lives: in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington, prosecutor offices, capitol hills and city halls around the country. Rashad has led the organization in developing cutting-edge strategies to accelerate reform in the criminal justice system and win justice for its victims, increase electoral participation, cut off corporate support for right-wing organizations, and change the representation of Black people and social issues in news and entertainment media.

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Tony-nominated producer. A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, he founded the non-profit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company. His best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was published by HarperCollins in 2018. Most recently, he co-produced Heidi Schreck’s acclaimed Broadway play What the Constitution Means to Me, which was nominated for two 2019 Tony awards, including “Best Play.” Among accolades he has received are the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and honorary degrees from Emerson College, Colby College, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students.

Darrell Bennet is an inspirational speaker and transformation coach.  He is a former attorney and a graduate of Harvard Law School and Morehouse College, where he was valedictorian. Darrell has been sharing his story in front of audiences since he wrote his first book at 18 years old.  He has spoken in Beijing, Jerusalem and Berlin and has been featured on NPR, the New Yorker Magazine and CNN.

Marcia Davis was most recently the news editor for The Marshall Project. Before The Marshall Project, she spent more than 20 years at The Washington Post. Her jobs included working for metro, features and the national desk. Her last job was as an editor on The Washington Post Magazine. She also worked for Emerge magazine and at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is the inaugural Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary. A leading voice in the development of womanist theology, Dean Douglas is widely published in national and international journals and other publications.Her latest book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (2015) examines the deep roots of “Stand Your Ground” culture in America and the challenges it brings for the Black Church community. Since 2017, she has served as the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral.

Rev. Ryan Eller is the Executive Director of Define American, the nations leading media and culture organization using the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity, and citizenship. A descendant of nine generations from Appalachia, Eller was the U.S. Campaigns Director at Change.org. For four years prior to that, he was the Executive Director of CHANGE in North Carolina—the largest broad-based community organizing group in the southern United States.

Anne Faustin Davis is Director of Faith-Based Coalitions at Odyssey Impact, where she forges partnerships and cultivates relationships with faith based change-makers, influencers, scholars and subject matter experts committed to pressing social justice issues. Anne has over a decade of experience in strategic planning and development in both the private and non-profit sectors. Odyssey Impact is a team of exceptional film and social justice professionals who believe that powerful documentaries can motivate people to do great things. They strategically build and execute social impact campaigns around award-winning documentaries to inspire people of all faiths and good will to engage with their communities on important issues in their lives. Anne was born in Brussels, Belgium, and grew up in New York. She graduated from New York Medical College with a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Policy and Management and from Manhattanville College with a BA in Management. Anne received her Certificate in Television and Film Producing at New York University.

Brandon R. Felton is a digital marketing, eCommerce and operations specialist with achievements that span over 20 years in digitally focused capacity building for corporate, NGOs and public institutions, helping them best serve their mission. With a wide set of marketing skills, he matches consumer behavior with strategies to swiftly increase sustainable attention and valuable experiences. Felton is a graduate of Morehouse College and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.  

Rev. Nyle Fort is a minister, activist, and scholar based in Newark, NJ. He is a joint Ph.D. candidate in religion and interdisciplinary humanities with a concentration in African American studies at Princeton University. His dissertation, Amazing Grief: The Politics of African American Mourning, is a scholarly meditation on race, loss and American politics. After traveling to Ferguson, Missouri as a part of a Black Lives Matter freedom ride, he created 7 Last Words: Strange Fruit Speaks, a liturgy commemorating the last words of black people killed by police and vigilantes.

Khadija Gurnah is the Organizing Director for Define American. Previously, Khadija worked on immigration advocacy at MomsRising. She has worked alongside various governmental departments, on a wide range of projects, including bullying prevention, cultural sensitivity, religious accommodations for youth in the juvenile justice system, and bolstering enrollment for Muslims in the Affordable Care Act. She is a recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change Award, and of the EMAC Special Award in Health Disparities from her alma mater, the Yale School of Public Health.

DeAnna R. Hoskins is President & CEO of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA). Dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in #halfby2030, JLUSA empowers people most affected by the criminal justice system to drive reform. DeAnna is a nationally recognized leader and a formerly incarcerated person with experience as an advocate and policy expert at the local, state, and federal level. Prior to joining JLUSA as its President and CEO, DeAnna served as a Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Justice, managing the Second Chance Act portfolio and serving as Deputy Director of the Federal Inter-Agency Reentry Council. Before that, she served as a county Director of Reentry in her home state of Ohio. DeAnna has always worked alongside advocates who have been impacted by incarceration, and knows that setting bold goals and investing in the leadership of directly impacted people is a necessary component of impactful, values-driven reform. Twitter: @MzDeHoskins.


Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a celebrated spiritual writer. the author of several books on Christian spirituality, including Reconstructing the Gospel, Strangers at My Door, The Awakening of Hope, The Wisdom of Stability, and The New Monasticism. He is also co-author, with Reverend Dr. William Barber II, of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless share community with the formerly housed.

Charles Moore is Director of Operations at Rehabilitation Through the Arts, an organization which uses the transformative power of the arts to develop social and cognitive skills that incarcerated people need for successful integration. RTA also seeks to raise public awareness of the humanity behind prison walls.


Derecka Purnell is a human rights lawyer, writer, and organizer who works to sustain social movements. As a Skadden Fellow, she helped design the Justice Project at Advancement Project’s National Office. There, she worked on police accountability issues, consent decrees, prosecutor races, and jail closure campaigns, providing community organizing training, political education and legal representation to organizers in St. Louis and Ferguson. Her advocacy efforts led to the dismissal of over 3,000 cases based on unconstitutional policing practices. Derecka regularly provides legal assistance and trainings to community organizations working to end police violence or close prisons through an abolitionist framework. An internationalist, she’s lectured or strategized movement tactics with protesters, academics, and journalists in The Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Her writing on the criminal legal system has been published in The New York TimesThe GuardianTruthoutBoston ReviewHuffington PostVox, and In These Times.

Ravi Ragbir is a NYC immigrant rights activist who has helped thousands of people as an organizer and now as the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York.  He works directly with those facing deportation to empower them in struggle to remain in the US.  He has trained advocates from various immigrant and allied organizations and many faith-based organizations nationwide on the impact of our immigration policies, on creating sanctuary spaces, and on how to accompany immigrants through the challenging deportation process. Working with these groups Ravi has organized Beyond Your Rights and community forums to educate and train communities to advocate for the individual but more importantly to advocate for a fair and humane immigration policy.

Izabel Solis is an educator, immigrant rights advocate and a social justice activist based in San Diego, California. She has an M.A. in Education with a concentration in Counseling and an advance Certificate in Mental Health Recovery and Trauma-Informed Care. Through community organize efforts, two-years ago, Izabel lead a campaign to free her pregnant sister from an immigration detention center.  She is committed to social justice and believes that when communities unite and organize for a common cause, it forces a structural change to governmental policies and process impacting marginalized communities.

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II that organized the largest and most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in US history. She is the Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. She has spent over the past two decades organizing amongst the poor in the United States, working with and advising grassroots organizations with significant victories including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Vermont Workers Center, Domestic Workers United, the National Union of the Homeless and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.

Dr. Alex Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 25 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. He also serves on the New York State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilization, andContemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have appeared in TheNY Times, NY Daily NewsThe NationVice NewsJacobin, and USA Today.

Eddy Zheng is the Co-Director for the Oakland based Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC.) APSC provides support to Asian & Pacific Islander prisoners and educates the broader community about the growing number of Asians & Pacific Islanders in the United States being imprisoned, detained, and deported. It seeks to address and challenge root causes of this crisis such as the deterioration of our educational system, the criminalization of our youth, and the lack of access to resources for low-income immigrants and communities.