James Forman, Jr., the Dallas Institute’s keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, is a Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He attended public schools in Detroit and New York City before graduating from the Atlanta Public Schools. After attending Brown University and Yale Law School, he worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court.
After clerking, he joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., where for six years he represented both juveniles and adults charged with crimes.
During his time as a public defender, Professor Forman became frustrated with the lack of education and job training opportunities for his clients. So in 1997, along with David Domenici, he started the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for school dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested. A decade later, in 2007, Maya Angelou School expanded and agreed to run the school inside D.C.’s juvenile prison. That school, which had long been an abysmal failure, has been transformed under the leadership of the Maya Angelou staff; the court monitor overseeing D.C.’s juvenile system called the turnaround “extraordinary.”
Forman taught at Georgetown Law from 2003 to 2011, when he joined the Yale faculty. At Yale, he teaches Constitutional Law, a seminar called Race, Class and Punishment, and a seminar called Inside Out: Issues in Criminal Justice, in which Yale law students study alongside men incarcerated in a Connecticut prison.
Professor Forman teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, juvenile justice, and education law and policy. His particular interests are schools, prisons, and police, and those institutions’ race and class dimensions. Professor Forman’s first book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, was on many top 10 lists, including the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2017, and was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
Brittany K. Barnett is an attorney and social justice advocate. As the daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother, Brittany knows first-hand the devastating impact of mass incarceration on families and entire communities. She is co-founder of the Buried Alive Project, an organization that works to end unfair and inhumane life without parole sentencing handed down under federal drug laws, and also founder of Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM) – a nonprofit empowering women in prison and their daughters to break the cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose.
Sharanda Jones was sentenced in 1999 to mandatory life without parole for her role in a nonviolent drug conspiracy – her first ever arrest and conviction. Her case garnered national attention, and after serving 16 years and 9 months, she was granted clemency by President Obama in 2015, an act of mercy that literally saved her life, and is now a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform. Co-founder of the Buried Alive Project, she works tirelessly to use her story to promote much needed change within the criminal justice system and to deter others from following the path she did.
Joyce King is an award-winning veteran broadcaster and a founding member of The Justice League of Texas. After covering three trials that changed her life, in 2002 she wrote her first book, Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas. As the first non-lawyer to serve on the executive board of directors for the Innocence Project of Texas, she worked with more than a dozen Texas exonerees and helped change legislation while pushing for greater awareness about the plight of wrongly-convicted people. Her life with James Woodard is the subject of Exonerated: A Brief and Dangerous Freedom.
Dr. Brian Williams is a trauma surgeon known for his role in treating the victims of the 2016 Dallas Police Shooting. Prior to becoming a physician, Dr. Williams was an aeronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force. He earned his MD from the University of South Florida. Since then, he has trained and worked at Harvard, Emory, and UT Southwestern Medical Center. He is an accomplished surgeon and public speaker sharing his insight on resilience and racial justice. “Black men dying and being forgotten,” he has said, “people retaliating against those sworn to defend us. We have to come together and end all this.”
Akin Babatunde, a native of New York City, is an accomplished actor, director, and writer whose theatrical career spans Broadway, regional theatre, film and television. He has been a resident company member of prestigious theatrical institutions throughout the country: Trinity Rep (Providence, RI), Alley Theater (Houston), La Mama Theater (New York City) and the Dallas Theater Center. He is founder and artistic director of Vivid Theater Ensemble of Dallas and founder of Ebony Emeralds Classic Theater Company. He was the first African American to direct for the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, and his one-man show, Before the Second Set – A Visit with Satchmo, has received critical acclaim at theaters across the country.
Men In Worship is an ensemble of 8-12 members. They have been performing together across the city for more than 10 years.