Students, staff, faculty, community members, and folks from out-of-state traveled to the Indianapolis campus of Ivy Tech Community College to hear from activist and author Anthony Ray Hinton on Tuesday.
Hinton wrote “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row” after serving 30 years in a Birmingham, Alabama, prison for a crime he did not commit. A crime that from the day of his arrest in July 1985, Hinton says, the State of Alabama knew he did not do. A fact that was proven true in 2014 after decades of maintaining his innocence.
“The State of Alabama did not make an ‘honest mistake.’ The State of Alabama knew from day one that I was not the person who had committed the crime. And yes – race and class had everything to do with me spending 30 years in prison,” Hinton told the audience seated in the ballroom of Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ Culinary and Conference Center.
The Campus Read series was the brain-child of Chancellor Lorenzo Esters, who suggested starting the series with Hinton’s memoir to Natasha Synowka, the Director of Library Services at Ivy Tech Indy, and Rhonda Angsman, the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Support, who took the reins from there and created the weeks-to-months-long series that secularly revolved around the book.
Synowka and Angsman and other members of their team held a kick-off event, in-person and virtual book clubs, a panel discussion, film screenings, and implicit bias training. All the events and talking circles led up to Hinton’s much-anticipated campus visit, which Synowka said is vital to a thriving community reading experience.
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“I think there’s something really powerful about the opportunity to engage in shared conversation together with each other,” Synowka said.
And a robust conversation following the exceptionally poignant speech by Hinton is precisely what happened.
Several audience members had dynamic comments to say to Hinton during the Q&A portion of the event, including a former criminal justice worker who is now working in education, a man who is working to have himself exonerated here in Marion County after spending 26 years behind bars, and a woman who is currently in school to get her law degree in pursuit of helping her husband get out of prison for a crime she says he didn’t commit.
“We have made race about everything,” Hinton answered after being prompted to question whether racism is worse today than in the 80s. To which he responded, “Yes.” He followed up with his belief that “Education is the key” to moving forward.
Hinton shed tears several times throughout the event, for which he said although he will “never be free” from the trauma of being one of the longest-serving death row prisoners in Alabama history, he does hold hope, activism, and forgiveness in his heart.
“The tears I shed are not tears of weakness but tears of strength,” Hinton said.
Hinton then left us all with a question that should motivate everyone to make a difference in our current criminal justice system: “What would you do if they came for you?”
What is Ivy Tech doing to be part of the change? ELEVATE: Change Starts Here.
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