Chicago’s Lumen Christi Institute will host a trio of Catholic scholars tonight for a virtual dialogue on racial equality in the criminal justice system, the latest from the institute's Catholic Criminal Justice Reform Network.

Entitled “Race and Justice in America”, the event will feature two African American panelists, Profs. Darren W. Davis and Herschella G. Conyers, and a third—Prof. Brandon Vaidyanathan—who is Indian.

The three will discuss the variegated factors impacting racial bias in the justice system, including the obvious (like Jim Crow holdovers) and the not so obvious (like socioeconomic disparities).

The conversation will be moderated by the Hon. Tom Donnelly, a Chicago judge.

Davis is a political science professor at Notre Dame, where he has served on the faculty for 14 years and is director of its Center for Social Research. He also led the steering committee as of late last year for Lumen Christi’s Black Catholic Scholarly Initiative, a think tank of sorts for Black Catholicism.

(The initiative has hosted at least a half-dozen events, including webinars, since its inception in 2018.)

Davis is known for collaborating with the National Black Catholic Congress on a national survey released in 2011 which reported the attitudes of African Americans about the Church. He and the survey’s co-author, Dr. Donald B. Pope-Davis of the Ohio State University, released a book in 2017 based on the report, “Perseverance in the Parish? Religious Attitudes from a Black Catholic Perspective”.

Darren’s third book, “Racial Resentment in the Political Mind” (co-authored with Prof. David C. Wilson of the University of Delaware), will hit bookshelves later this year.

Conyers, a clinical professor at the University of Chicago Law School, is director of its Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic—where law students can gain experience representing clients while also working to effect reform.

She was named the first Lillian E. Kraemer Clinical Professor in Public Interest Law late last year, after receiving the university’s Diversity Leadership Award that January.

A longtime public defender before her time at UChicago, she has made headlines for her continued work on behalf of the poor since—including an exoneration and million-dollar settlement for a wrongfully convicted man in the early 2000s.

She has also given a TED Talk on her work with children in the criminal justice system.

She participated in a similar event to today’s with Lumen Christi almost exactly a year ago, entitled “Race, Justice, and Catholicism”—also part of the BCSI.

Tonight’s event is free, co-sponsored by the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology, and will occur over Zoom while being streamed on YouTube.

Interested parties can register here.


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


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