A national criminal justice reform advocate visited students at Langston University Thursday night.
Akeem Browder is leading the effort towards more mental health care and less time waiting for a trial, and his push for reform is personal.
Kalief Browder killed himself after spending two of his three years at Riker’s Island in solitary confinement. His brother is now working to ensure others do not have to endure the same suffering.
Rep. Ajay Pittman (D-Oklahoma City) brought Akeem to the State Capitol ahead of his panel at Langston University to discuss the ways Oklahoma is moving towards criminal justice reform as the state with the highest incarceration rate.
“This is a national issue,” Pittman said. “This is a community issue. This is something that everyone is choosing to work on.”
Akeem saw firsthand how not being able to afford bail over a minor theft case led to his brother's suicide in 2015.
“Kalief, he suffered with an injustice that he took to his grave,” Akeem said, “allegedly being accused of stealing a backpack, inevitable gave him a sentence of death.”
Akeem created the Kalief Browder Foundation after his brother's death, and his mother's subsequent death from a heart attack. He hopes to turn his family tragedy into positive change.
Langston is the only school in Oklahoma to have a Corrections program, so Akeem is appealing to students there to lead the charge.
He explained to them, “You’re not just sitting in a jail wondering when is your date to go to court. You’re fighting for your life while fighting for your justice, your freedom.”
Students also watched clips from the docu-series, "The Kalief Browder Story," and talked about ways to help our own state evolve.
Student chapter president for the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice LeTina Mcleod said, “The passion that I have to assist the beautiful state of Oklahoma, reduce our embarrassing incarceration rates, has led me to want to orchestrate an awareness, a night of social change.”
“We need change,” Akeem added, “and our mental health has to start being considered as real wealth.”
The Kalief Browder Story is streaming now on Netflix.