A gift to the University of Mississippi will support a newly launched program that focuses on political education and community building in the state, bolstering UM’s long-term goal to be transformative through outreach.
FWD.us, an organization centered on American immigration and prison systems reform, recently gave more than $50,000 to support a program of the Mississippi Freedom Winter project — an outgrowth of the 2019 Making and Unmaking of Mass Incarceration (MUMI) conference. UM hosted the event, which was coordinated by Garrett Felber, assistant professor of history.
“MUMI was a unique opportunity for intergenerational conversation and collaboration between students, scholars and activists,” Felber stated on the MUMI website. “The issues debated, the relationships formed, and the energy and possibility generated will continue to produce new organizing strategies and scholarship which serves liberation, not just libraries, for years to come.”
Central to discussions at the conference was the topic of prison abolition, especially in Mississippi. As a result, a partnership between a national network of universities and organizers in Mississippi was formed to address incarceration and immigrant detention in the state.
In August 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 680 people in central Mississippi. Just four months later, a wave of deaths inside the state’s prisons initiated renewed calls to reduce the number of persons imprisoned or the rate of imprisonment and close Mississippi State Penitentiary.
The FWD.us gift will primarily fund a Freedom Winter program titled Study and Struggle.
For explanation, Felber referenced the Mississippi Freedom Winter website, which states: “Our Study and Struggle program is the first phase of an ongoing project to organize against incarceration and criminalization in Mississippi through four months of political education and community building.”
As part of the program, study groups organized from more than 100 Mississippians inside and outside prisons will receive a biweekly curriculum, discussion questions, reading materials and refreshments. These groups will then participate and correspond with similar groups nationwide and will gather online once a month for webinars and workshops.
“The curriculum, built by a combination of currently- and formerly-incarcerated people, scholars and community organizers, will center around the interrelationship between prison abolition and immigrant detention, with a particular focus on the histories of struggle in Mississippi and the South,” the website states.
In addition to its most recent gift, FWD.us also helped sponsor MUMI with financial support totaling more than $100,000.
“For too long, our harmful immigration and criminal justice systems have locked too many people out of the American dream. And it’s holding us all back,” said Alesha Judkins, the FWD.us director of criminal reform for the state of Mississippi. “Our goal is to influence policymakers and those around them to make the policy changes that create opportunity and unlock America’s potential. When we work together, we can build a stronger, safer, and more prosperous future.”
By Bill Dabney