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New ACLU Storytelling Program at TSU to Train Advocates for Criminal Justice Reform

The program will teach students who have been impacted by the criminal justice system how to present their personal stories before the state Legislature

Elizabeth Trovall/Houston Public Media
TSU Provost Kendall Harris and ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke formalize the partnership by signing a MOU.

The ACLU is partnering with Texas Southern University (TSU) to tackle criminal justice reform by fostering storytellers. The ACLU of Texas says the partnership to create a Smart Justice Speakers Bureau is the first of its kind the country.

The program will teach students who have been impacted by the criminal justice system how to tell their stories before the state Legislature and other public forums.


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The idea for the storytelling bureau came from former death row inmate Anthony Graves. Graves says he has seen firsthand the power of storytelling.

“Every time I tell my story someone comes up to me and asks me how can they help,” said Graves.

Graves spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated and released.

“Regardless of how you feel about the criminal justice system, you don't want someone innocent back there,” he said.

He tells his story around the world and now wants to empower others to do the same through the new speakers bureau at TSU.

“It's going to take stories, real stories, to wake people up to what's really happening in our criminal justice system,” said Graves.

Talks are underway to potentially set up more storytelling programs in other states, according to the ACLU of Texas.

The Smart Justice Speakers Bureau initiative will begin at the start of TSU’s fall semester.

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