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NEA Big Read 2021

NEA Big Read: Ernest J. Gaines on Criminal Justice


Register Below

Tuesday, 7:30 pm EDT March 16, 2021

Online via Zoom

In A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines wrote about an unfair and brutal American justice system—one that’s still operating today. Before “No justice, no peace” and before the Black Lives Matter movement existed, Gaines told the too-common story of an innocent black man sentenced to die by his white neighbors.

For our second NEA Big Read event, Reverend David Telfort from the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church will moderate a discussion on America’s faulty criminal justice system with its roots in slavery and a vision for truly achieving a system of justice in the future. He’ll be joined by Kyung-Ji Kate Rhee of the Center for NuLeadership on Human Justice and Healing and Dr. David Khey, a criminal justice expert currently researching in the same Louisiana prison system as the one featured in A Lesson Before Dying.

Co-presented with The Center for NuLeadership on Human Justice and Healing and Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The Center for Fiction’s Big Read initiative, running from March to June 2021, includes free online reading discussion groups, workshops for young writers, flash fiction writing contest for teens, and public events with authors and scholars. This initiative is made possible through a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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    Ernest J. Gaines

    Ernest J. Gaines

    The author of ten books of fiction, Ernest J. Gaines was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, National Medal of the Art, Chavalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the government of France, and a National Books Critics Circle Award winner. His brilliant portrayals of race, community, and culture in rural south Louisiana—in particular of both dispiriting and triumphal experiences of Black personhood—made him a greatly respected and beloved world-renowned author.

    Photo Credit: Steven Forster

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    Dr. David N. Khey

    Dr. David N. Khey

    Dr. David N. Khey has focused his research on a few areas in criminology, criminal justice, and forensic science. In particular, he is currently investigating drug policy, control, and evidence-based criminal justice programming, including reentry services. Born and raised in South Florida during the late 1970s and early 80s, drug policy and enforcement quickly piqued his interest. In this topical area, Dr. Khey has presented research on drug and alcohol use/abuse and provided policy analysis to local and state officials in Florida. A highlight of this work includes an invitation to address the Governor’s Office Drug Policy Advisory Council in 2007. Dr. Khey is an active member of the American Society of Criminology, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and Southern Criminal Justice Association. He excels in bridging personality differences across law enforcement, social workers, academics, pharmacists, faith leaders, and laypersons and has aided in bringing strong personalities together and aligning them to tackle common aims.

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    Kyung-Ji Kate Rhee

    Kyung-Ji Kate Rhee

    Kyung-Ji Kate Rhee, Co-Executive Director, oversees the policy, advocacy and training agenda at CNHJH. Kyung-Ji is nationally recognized for her expertise in campaign strategy development, youth justice advocacy and dynamic training design for system and community stakeholders on culture change, racial disparity and leadership growth. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), a project of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, and the Steering Committee of the New York City Task Force on Racial Disparity in the Juvenile Justice System. She has been featured in a range of publications, including Utne Reader (Top 30 Visionaries under 30), Village Voice, The Source (Top 10 Artists, Albums, & Political Players of the Year), The KoreAm Magazine, Gotham Gazette, New York Sun, and Brooklyn Free Press, among others. She received her BA from the University of Chicago where she worked with Michelle Obama and Pamela Bozeman to launch a public service community summer internship program for University of Chicago students.

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    Rev. David Telfort

    Rev. David Telfort

    The Reverend David F. Telfort is the eighth installed pastor of the Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He is the youngest called pastor and the first of African descent in the church’s 162-year history. David has served LAPC since the summer of 2017. The Brooklyn native studied Urban Environmental Policy at Occidental College. It was there he sensed a call to serve people in both the local church and the public sphere through community organizing. David earned his Masters of Divinity from Yale University’s School of Divinity where he further explored the connection between faith and our socio-political realities. He believes our systems and society should work for all people. He brings into every room he enters the presence of his Afro-Caribbean ancestors, leaning on them to do God’s will.


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  • Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church - Zach Cihlar