Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Writing About Justice

The following article was taken with permission from Bookmarks, the blog of Southern Celebrations.

Dr. Steve Boyd, a Religion professor at Wake Forest University, fights for justice in his writing as well as inside his classroom. Dr. Boyd’s book Making Justice Our Business: The Wrongful Conviction of Darryl Hunt and the Work of Faith has just been released. His first talk about his book and book signing will be held on Monday, November 28th at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Below is a description (from Wake Forest University’s website) about Dr. Boyd’s course “Religion and Public Life.” A course that has taught him just as much as it has the students who have taken it.

(from WFU website)

…For nearly twenty years, Winston-Salem resident Darryl Hunt spent every day in a dreary prison cell serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. In spite of a trial that was devoid of physical evidence tying Hunt to the scene of the crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Hunt was just nineteen years old at the time.

Facing perhaps the cruelest fate a human being can endure, Hunt maintained his own innocence, and his spirit remained unfettered as he called on God to give him strength and to comfort him. As his days behind bars grew in number from the hundreds to the thousands, Hunt’s faith in God only intensified and served as much more than a means of preserving a glimmer of hope for life outside of prison.

Nine years after being convicted, DNA evidence surfaced indicating that Hunt, an African American, could not have committed the crime, yet the appeal of his conviction was denied. In 2003, his attorney, who served him for eighteen years pro bono, threw one last “hail Mary” pass in the form of a motion to compare the DNA in the 1984 rape kit to a state database of DNA profiles. Miraculously, he got a “hit.” Finally, the real murderer was found and Hunt was freed.  Hunt’s remarkable story gained national recognition and became emblematic of Winston-Salem’s historically tense race relations.

Building upon his experience, Hunt founded the Darryl Hunt Project with community leaders to help prevent the criminal justice system from convicting innocent parties, educating the public about faults in the system, and helping ex-offenders re-enter society and become productive, contributing citizens.

Just one year after Hunt’s exoneration, Wake Forest student Rashad Daker had the opportunity to transcribe Hunt’s daily journal entries that he wrote during his imprisonment, an assignment that Daker chose as part of Professor Stephen Boyd’s “Religion and Public Life” course. Daker and Hunt are both practicing Muslims, and according to Boyd, both individuals found the experience cathartic and spiritually engaging.

In addition to Daker’s work with the Darryl Hunt Project, each student in Boyd’s class worked with a local nonprofit organization that is addressing a significant need in the community. For instance, one student worked with Advocacy for the Poor, researching issues related to poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, and hunger. The in-class portion of the course focuses on issues of religious leadership, social entrepreneurship, the separation of church and state, and the differences among service, advocacy, and community organizing, as well as their roots in three dominant theological paradigms in Christian history.

Boyd also sees great value in simply getting students involved in projects off campus – outside the “Wake Forest bubble.”

“As a student, it is easy to get consumed with life on campus,” said Boyd. “Students sometimes forget there is an exciting world outside the ‘Wake Forest bubble’, one that is full of challenging issues that can be gratifying to work on.”

The students and the organizations were not the only ones touched by the course, however. Boyd described the experience as “the most rewarding course I ever taught” and is offering it for the second time in 2011.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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