By Jamal Thomas
January 23, 2020
Montgomery, AL- Auburn University Montgomery (AUM) hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. 2020 Reflections Breakfast earlier this week. Nearly 800 people registered for the event.
“This is one of our favorite events of the year” said Dr. Stockton, Chancellor of the university. “We highlight servant-leadership and honor and individual who helped transform society.”
The keynote speaker for the event was Cyntoia Brown-Long, author, activist, and motivational speaker who wrote the memoir “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System.” She was granted clemency by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam last year after serving 15 years of a life sentence for murdering a man who had picked her up for sex at age 16.
Brown-Long shared her childhood experiences that led to a life of drug addiction, sex trafficking, and eventually a murder conviction. As a child, she said she didn’t fit in at school because she was adopted and bi-racial. “I struggled socially and behaviorally. It affected my learning experience.”
Eventually, Brown-Long was expelled from school and spent time at various detention facilities. Some of the older women at the facilities became an influence on her. “The women in the facility taught me that my body was a commodity.”
One fateful night, Brown-Long’s pimp sent her to have sex with a man 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen. During the encounter, Brown-Long said she was fearing for her life, so she shot and killed him.
While in prison Brown-Long fought. She fought because she was a victim and not a criminal, and because she knew there were other young girls who were incarcerated under similar circumstances. During her discussion, Brown-Long shared how she had experienced unhealthy relationship behaviors. She talked about the time her father’s friend made shrewd remarks to her. “I told my father, and nothing happened.”
Brown-Long also talked about the time when a male teacher at her school wasn’t penalized for having a sexual relationship with a student.
It was a shift of faith that helped Brown-Long to overcome her circumstances and her past. While incarcerated she got her GED, graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and mentored at-risk youth. “You can never be too busy to be caught up in your own problems to help someone else” Brown-Long said as she was concluding her discussion. “It’s our responsibility to be stewards of the system by doing what we can to change it.”
While in prison Brown-Long launched the GLITTER Project. It stands for “Grassroots Learning Initiative on Teen Trafficking, Exploitation and Rape”.
The discussion with Brown-Long was led by Dr. Joshua M. Roberts, Dean of Students, Diversity and Inclusion.
Special guest in attendance were Mayor of Talladega Timothy Ragland, Judge Tiffany McCord, Judge Monet Gaines, and representatives from The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, The Equal Justice Initiative, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Family Sunshine Center.
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