December 10, 2012

Black Male Initiative Holds Panel on Today’s Black Men and the Business of Prisons

Black Male Initiative former peer coaches and alumni Ronald Day and Jay Marshall with BMI President Lawrence H. Johnson

Left to right: Ronald Day, Jay Marshall, Glenn Martin and Larry Johnson

(BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Oct. 22, 2012) The Black Male Initiative, a student club at the Metropolitan New York Center of SUNY Empire State College, convened a panel discussion titled “Today’s Black Men and the Business of Prisons.” 

Lawrence H. Johnson, a student at the Metro Center and president of the Black Male Initiative, became interested in the topic after reading a news article about a newly constructed prison facility that sat empty because the prison population did not increase as anticipated. His curiosity motivated him to do additional research and he found that the business of prisons is not a frequent topic in the mainstream media.

“I brought up the subject ‘black men in jail’ at one of our BMI monthly meetings and discovered it is a hot topic that many have an interest in,” said Johnson. "I have friends in law enforcement that are attorneys. They, too, were very much interested in the topic. In fact, all the people who participated in the panel were extremely passionate about the subject matter.”

Members of the Black Male Initiative audience raise their hands to ask questions

Members of the Audience raise hands during question and answer session

The statistics on black male incarceration are sobering. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at year end 2010, black non-Hispanic males had an imprisonment rate (3,074 per 100,000 U.S. black male residents) that was nearly seven times higher than white, non-Hispanic males (459 per 100,000).

Nationally, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, almost nine percent of black men in their late 20s are behind bars and blacks comprise about 16 percent of New York’s overall population, but almost 55 percent of those incarcerated. The NAACP reports that about $70 billion dollars are spent on corrections yearly.

Metro Dean Cynthia Ward and Larry D. Johnson at the Oct. 22, 2012 Black Male Initiative Panel

Metro Dean Cynthia Ward and panelist Larry D. Johnson

One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001, according to the NAACP, and if current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.

‌“The forum explored a vitally important area of public policy in addressing black men and incarceration,” said Cynthia Ward, dean of the Metro Center. “The panelists spoke from a wide variety of perspectives and were eloquent and deeply emotionally affecting. The Black Male Initiative, for a second year, has brought to the center a forum that made a big impact on the audience and I am committed to supporting their work.”

"The most important aspect of the panel discussion was the diversity of our panel participants,” said Professor David Fullard, a faculty mentor at the college. “One might think that a state senator, a police chief, a Fortune Society director, a criminal attorney, a legal aid attorney, a correctional administrator and two ex-offenders now involved in policy development would speak nothing more than unproductive fireworks. Instead, we had a detailed and enlightening exchange about the business of law enforcement, policing and prisons that was multifaceted and balanced, with a very productive exchange of business cards among participants and guests so the productive dialogue can continue.”

Left to right: Sen. Eric Adams, Prof. David Fullard, Mary Jones at the Black Male Initiative Panel discussion on Oct. 22, 2012

State Sen. Eric Adams, Prof. David Fullard and Mary Jones


The seven panelists were state Sen. Eric Adams (D-20th); Ronald Day ’09, Black Male Initiative peer coach; Glenn Martin, director of public policy at Fortune Society;, Xavier R. Donaldson, senior trial counsel of Donaldson & Chilliest LLP; Larry D. Johnson, section supervisor, New York City Department of Corrections; Elton B. Mohammed, deputy chief, New York Police Department; and Gurmeet Singh, staff attorney of the Legal Aid Society Criminal Practice Division. Filmmaker and composer Bill Toles moderated the panel.

About the Black Male Initiative

Black Male Initiative panel left to right: Ronald Day, Glenn Martin, Xavier Donaldson, Larry D. Johnson, Elton Mohammed, Gurmeet Singh, Sen. Eric Adams

Left to right: Ronald Day, Glenn Martin, Xavier Donaldson, Larry D. Johnson, Elton Mohammed, Gurmeet Singh and state Sen. Eric Adams

The Black Male Initiative, one of several active student clubs at the college, provides students with a forum to share experiences and to better connect with student services, faculty and instructors and, most importantly, each other.

Beginning in 2009, educators and administrators at the Metro Center put in place a program to keep more black men actively enrolled and thereby help them earn a college degree. The program leveraged the college’s alumni and its experience in mentoring and evolved to the student club.

Alumni Jay Marshall ’06, ‘08 and Day were selected as the first two peer coaches for the group. These two canvassed Metro Center student prospects by telephone and email.  As a result, many of the center’s students were interested in meeting on a regular basis and the Black Male Initiative was formed.

The group meets face to face on a monthly basis. Today, approximately 30 students participate in the BMI. Marshall and now Dexter Mead continue to call members and prospective members on a weekly basis.


Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

518-587-2100, ext. 2918

Media Contact

David M. Henahan, Director of Communications
518-587-2100, ext. 2918

(after 5 p.m. and weekends)

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