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The 12th National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Fla., closes with a Mass July 9. (CNS/courtesy Nancy Jo Davis, National Black Catholic Congress)

Congress XII

EJI gives children sentenced to life in prison without parole another option

By NBCC Staff | photos from

“Fourteen states in the United States have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults.”  (All Children Are Children, EJI publication, p. 5).

In an interview with Jennifer Taylor, Staff Attorney with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit, privately-held human rights organization, it became tragically apparent that the injustices of mass incarceration and excessive punishment within the justice system in the United States are not limited to young adults and adults of color. Incredibly, children under the age of 18 – many between the ages of 12 to 14, and as noted above, some as young as age eight – have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The work of EJI began in the 1980’s as the organization identified inmates who had been wrongfully convicted due to ineffective representation. EJI offered legal assistance to those who had been sentenced to execution in an effort to have the cases retried. Alabama has the highest rate of juvenile death-sentences, and EJI has interceded on behalf of many children facing execution in that state. In 2005, the Supreme Court “banned the execution of juveniles” and the death sentence was no longer imposed on children 17 and under (All Children Are Children, p. 16).

The EJI website lists thirteen states that currently have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult: Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Although children receive protections in every other area of the law due to the recognized deficiencies in their ability to reason and identify consequences (i.e., child labor laws, legal drinking age, driving restrictions, etc.) these states can impose harsh penal sentences leaving these children vulnerable to physical, sexual, and mental abuse (

Another focus of EJI is to eliminate the inhumane issues connected to prison internment. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and inadequate access to healthcare including psychological health. In the case of incarcerated children, they “have very limited experience managing their disabilities, anxieties, fears, and trauma” (All Children Are Children, p.12). This may result in behavior that is seen as impulsive or reckless, and these children are given additional punishments that are more detrimental to their mental health.

Taylor recounted one of EJI’s juvenile cases that centered on Evan, a boy who was physically and emotionally abused to the point of attempting suicide at age 5. At age 14, Evan and another youth were given drugs and alcohol by a man, who then attempted to grab Evan. Evan and the other youth hit the man with a bat and set fire to his trailer, resulting in the man’s death by smoke inhalation. Evan was “sentenced to die in prison in Alabama without any consideration of his age or the abuse he suffered throughout his short life” (p. 26).

The case went to the Supreme Court in March 2012 after being petitioned by EJI. EJI argued “sentencing kids to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment” (p.25) as well as a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court held that such sentences for children convicted of homicide and under the age of 17 were unconstitutional, and more importantly, gave judges the ability to impose less severe judgements. The Court did not ban life without parole sentences for juveniles, however, but required judges imposing sentences to consider the lack of rational reasoning in children in addition to their capacity to change as they mature. The court further stated that these considerations should lessen the incidences of such harsh sentences (p. 27).

EJI is currently working on 90 active cases in Alabama, petitioning the courts for retrial and reduction of the life in prison without parole sentences imposed on these juveniles, and Taylor estimates that there are a total of 2,500 such active cases across the United States. She maintains that in order for EJI to successfully represent these children in court, it is imperative for the community to get involved. If the public is aware that such harsh sentences have been imposed on children, they are more likely to become involved in petitioning their local legislators for policy changes, and insisting that judges who sentence juveniles are held accountable for the harsh punishments they impose. Taylor said that if the community is not involved, the same judges who imposed the initial life sentence will sit on the retrial and are not likely to lessen the severity of the sentence; it is only through the intercession of the public that the judges will recognize the injustice that is meted out to children in the court system.

For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the programs and initiatives mentioned above, and more importantly, how you can help, please go to:

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What attendees
are saying about Congress XII:

By Jean Gonzalez 
Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) — United by the words of the prophet of social justice, Catholic Church leaders urged black Catholics to become active, just disciples of Christ.

More than 2,000 converged on Orlando July 6-9 for the 12th National Black Catholic Congress. Am adult mom and daughter plus Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, in his role as director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministry, and Robert Watson, director of the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry represented the Diocese of Phoenix.

“I had never been in the presence of so many Black Catholics. It was a wonderful feeling to be in the company of several thousand African Americans who shared my Catholic faith,” Watson said.

Congress speakers — clergy, lay and religious — addressed a variety of topics and concerns facing black communities and families, while urging those present to take an active, enthusiastic role in living out the Gospel as just disciples of Christ.

During his homily at the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, Fr. Patrick Smith, pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Washington, spoke about the “ridiculous power of the Christ on the cross” and how our own suffering can be offered up to God as a source of healing for others.

Participants are seen July 9 during the 12th National Black Catholic Congress July 9 in Orlando, Fla. (CNS/courtesy Nancy Jo Davis, National Black Catholic Congress)

It is important the community does talk about its struggles, the priest said, but it also must talk about the redemptive power of God on the cross. He added while “racism ultimately leads to death … a spiritual suicide in our souls,” the truths of the Gospel sets lives free.

“That is our anger, but also our source of hope,” he said. “You and I cannot appreciate the good news unless we first face and acknowledge the bad news.”

The roots of the Black Catholic Congress stem from 1889 with layman and journalist Daniel Rudd, who brought together 100 black Catholic men to exchange and discuss questions affecting their race for not just Catholic blacks, but blacks across the country, and unite for a course of action while standing behind the Catholic Church and its values.  Full story...

Black Catholics at congress urged to ‘listen, learn, think, act and pray’

By Catholic News Service
Jul 11, 2017

The recessional following the Opening Mass at the Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida.

Bryan Stevenson

Founder and Executive Director
of Equal Justice Initiative

Video Recap of NBCC Congress XII

Congress XII Video Highlights

Pastoral Plan of Action Update from Congress XII

Dr. Chiquita T. Tuttle

Diocese of Oakland

"Informative, invigorating, wonderful to see a Black Cardinal, Bishops, Priests and Nuns. The homilies were wonderful, uplifting and the general sessions were powerful. My favorite was the saying from our host facilitator, 'Give me some of that'. That Spiritual uplifting and energy. Now to do the work."

Kanika Jones
Archdiocese of Philadelphia

"My first Congress and when I tell you I have NEVER experienced anything like this. This congress has given me no other option I must be the change agent Christ has called me to be. To God Be The Glory!"

Thank you, thank you

ANONYMOUS FROM TEXAS - Thanks for listening to comments from five years ago--providing meals!!! etc. Got a good dose of exercise, with all the walking! Tried to tell folks that Congress is not just a 'feel good' experience! We are called to continue to get out the message, be not afraid, and to remember The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me, Act Justly, Love Goodness, and Walk Humbly with Your God!

This was my first NBCC and it won't be my last

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My spiritual needs were met and I met many new friends. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to attend.

Congress XII was awesome!!!
​It absolutely exceeded my expectations in every way. The Holy Spirit was truly present and alive. I was especially moved by all the ways the Blessed Mother was acknowledged, including the beautiful rosary that we received. The timing of this Congress was a perfect way to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Fatima!

This was the best NBCC that I have attended

ANONYMOUS FROM OHIO - Closing Mass was wonderful, inspiring, and joyful -- a perfect closing!

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 Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley


July 9, 2017

National Black Catholic Congress XII Concludes with Commitment to Priorities for Action

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Mr. Bryan Stevenson, Esq., presented the keynote address titled, "Love Mercy and Do Justice: Confronting Mass Incarceration, Racial Bias and Poverty", at Congress XII. We have received many requests for more information about Mr. Stevenson and about the initiatives of his non-profit corporation, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

The following article presents information about the critical work EJI is currently undertaking. Please go to the EJI website, for more information about these initiatives and how you can help. 

Congress XII apparel and gifts still available!

Order a copy of Bryan's
​recent book,  
Just Mercy


fromBarnes & Noble

Contact:         John Finn
Company:      The National Black Catholic Congress
Phone:            571-354-5642
Email:    or

The theme of Congress XII is "The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God".

Orlando, Florida, July 9, 2017 – The Twelfth National Black Catholic Congress concluded on Sunday with the Delegates’ commitment to a Preamble laying out the principles of a Pastoral Plan of Action.  After a concluding Mass celebrated by Bishop Roy Campbell, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, D.C. with a homily by Bishop Fernand Cheri, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans the 2,000 Delegates agreed to the following Pastoral Priorities in the Preamble:

  • We believe the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and Giver of Life, is upon us.  Because of this, we recommit ourselves to live our Baptism as Catholics, be “authentically Black and truly Catholic” and seek leadership in our Church on all levels.

  • We commit ourselves to promote the causes for canonization of the five holy women and men being considered for sainthood in our Church

  • We commit ourselves to act justly by living in proximity with those who are suffering and neglected. Specifically, we seek to promote the dignity and life of everyone person from the unborn to natural death. We commit ourselves to dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization. 
    We also commit ourselves to address the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.

  • We commit ourselves to love goodness by sharing our Faith with others using creative ways, especially social media, as we evangelize in our community.  We commit ourselves to support our Catholic Schools in our community.

  • We commit ourselves to walk humbly with our God and affirm the universal call to holiness as it is lived out in all forms of vocations in our Church – marriage, single life, consecrated women and men and clergy.

  • We commit ourselves to listen and respond to the needs of the youth and young adults in our community as we pass on this legacy of our Faith.

  • We commit to align these priorities with the outcomes of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders as “missionary disciples” called to spread the Joy of the Gospel. 

  • Finally, we commit ourselves to apply these priorities on the local diocesan, regional and national level and review them on a yearly basis.

The Delegates also received a report from the Youth Delegates to the Congress which reiterated their commitment to the central elements of the Catholic Faith, expressed pride in their identity as both Blacks and Catholics, requested the opportunity to take leadership positions in the Church and emphasized their belief in the life and dignity of every human being.

# # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact John Finn at 571-354-5642 or send an email at or

Opening Address by Cardinal Turkson at Congress XII

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me:

act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.