“Next Gen for Justice” Catholic college speaking tour travels to three cities

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) recently wrapped up its “Next Gen for Justice” Catholic College Speaking Tours. This series of events, which took place at universities in states that are highly significant to the death penalty abolition movement, brought CMN staff to Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana; the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas; and Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Along the way, students heard from people directly impacted by capital punishment, and how their lives were forever changed by a dehumanizing system. They learned about how they can play a part in working towards its abolition — within their own state, and across the country.

Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ speaks to students at Loyola University New Orleans.

Stop 1: Loyola University New Orleans

The events at Loyola University New Orleans, which were co-hosted by the Jesuit Social Research Institute, featured renowned anti-death penalty advocate and native Louisianan Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ.

Sr. Helen is the author of the bestselling memoir, Dead Man Walking, and has shared her testimony of accompanying individuals on death row for decades. She told students the importance of shedding light on the dehumanizing aspects of capital punishment, which often operates behind a veil of secrecy.

Shareef Cousin, a death row exoneree from Louisiana, speaks to students at Loyola University New Orleans.

Loyola students also heard from Shareef Cousin, who at the age of 16 was arrested for a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death in the state of Louisiana. He was the youngest person on Louisiana’s death row. Many years later, Shareef successfully proved his wrongful conviction. He is one of 12 people who have been exonerated from Louisiana’s death row.

Students from a local San Antonio high school pose by a #NextGen4Justice banner during a vigil held for Jedidiah Murphy.

Stop 2: University of the Incarnate Word

CMN’s visit to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas was particularly timely. It coincided with World Day Against the Death Penalty, a global commemoration celebrated each year on October 10 as a way to raise awareness about the injustice of capital punishment and profess a unified call for its abolition. On this same day, Texas had scheduled the execution of Jedidiah Murphy.

Students and community members gathered in downtown San Antonio for a public vigil to oppose Jedidiah’s execution. Tragically, the execution went through as scheduled.

Panelists Dr. Doshi Piper, Monique Coleman, and Mitesh Patel take the stage with moderator Arturo Chavez at “United to End the Death Penalty” panel.

The day concluded with a panel co-hosted by the University, CMN, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Pax Christi Texas. Featured panelists included Monique Coleman, the sister of a death row exoneree who advocated for his liberation and reintegration; Mitesh Patel, who advocated against the execution of the man who murdered his father; and Dr. Doshi Piper, an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of the Incarnate Word.

Each of the panelists highlighted through their unique experience how the death penalty sends ripple effects of harm far beyond the walls of death row.

Xavier University students and Cincinnati community members gather for “Innocent on Death Row,” a panel hosted at the University Chapel.

Stop 3: Xavier University

The final event of the “Next Gen for Justice” speaking tour was hosted at Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University in Ohio — the state that many believe will be the next to abolish the death penalty.

More than 100 students and community members gathered for “Innocent on Death Row,” a panel featuring two death row exonerees and the brother of a murder victim.

Debra Milke is one of eleven exonerees from Arizona, and Randal Padgett is one of seven exonerees from Alabama. Both Debra and Randal tragically lost loved ones to murder and spent years on death row, convicted for these crimes which they did not commit.

Dr. Rev. Jack Sullivan also lost a loved one to murder, and has since become the Board Chair of Journey of Hope — From Violence to Healing, an organization which provides public education about the needs of crime victims, and specifically the needs of family members of murder victims.

A student from Xavier University signs her name to the traveling banner.

As CMN’s staff traveled the country to host each of these remarkable events, a banner that read “Our generation WILL end the death penalty” traveled with them.

Students were invited to add their names to the banner, marking their commitment to joining the movement to abolish capital punishment. The banner, once white with blank space, is now littered with the names of students.

As she met with students in Ohio, Debra Milke said over and over again, “You are the future.” These young people will be the next lawyers, judges, jury members, journalists, and activists. They will be the ones who will bring death penalty abolition across the finish line.

Young people are a light of hope in the darkness of capital punishment. 

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