April / May 2017


Educating for Justice Gala to Honor “Fierce Advocates”

Anna Deavere Smith, the acclaimed actress, playwright, educator and activist, will lead a group of distinguished honorees at John Jay College’s annual Educating for Justice Gala on May 8 at the Plaza hotel. The festive fundraiser — a highlight of the academic year — will also honor the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation for its advocacy and support of quality education in New York City, and President Jeremy Travis for his 13 years of outstanding leadership.

Bill Moyers, award-winning journalist and filmmaker and president of the Schumann Media Center, will host the event.

“I am delighted to be honored alongside these fierce advocates for justice,” said Travis. “With her groundbreaking performances, Anna Deavere Smith has created a new form of theater that shines a light on some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time. The generous support of the Petrie Foundation has provided a lifeline to students facing financial crises that would prevent them from completing their college educations.”

This year’s extraordinary honorees have made notable impacts within their respective fields and on the cause of justice. Deavere Smith, celebrated for her innovative, one-woman plays, has sought to use theater and film to raise awareness on issues of equity and justice, including the forces that cause some impoverished children to leave school and become enmeshed in cycles of incarceration.

The Petrie Foundation’s Emergency Fund has helped thousands of John Jay students by offering financial relief for those in desperate situations and enabling them to stay in school and complete their degrees. The new Petrie Cybersecurity Pipeline Program prepares community college students for John Jay’s rigorous cybersecurity program and careers in a fast growing and crucial field.

Under President Travis’s visionary leadership, John Jay College transitioned to a dynamic senior college, offering a dozen liberal arts degrees and boasting a record of academic excellence and increased research funding. President Travis has also continued to be a leading voice in the criminal justice reform movement, serving as chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on the Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration, and as a member of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which recently called for the closing of Riker’s Island.

The event will include a special tribute in honor of the founding supporters of the John Jay-Vera Fellows Program: Jeffrey R. Gural, Ronay A. and Richard Menschel, Arthur J. Mirante II, Ron L. Moelis, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Herbert Sturz. This partnership between John Jay College and the Vera Institute of Justice provides unique internship and academic experiences to outstanding undergraduate students committed to social justice and public service.

Proceeds from the gala support scholarships and programs that help John Jay students achieve their academic and career goals.

For more information, please click here.


Hitting His Stride on the John Jay Stage

Nicholas Smith, a sophomore Law and Society major, has only been in the United States for about eight months, yet earlier this month he took to the stage in a lead role in a new theatrical production at John Jay, “The African Company Presents Richard III.” Smith moved to New York City from the island of Jamaica last summer and enrolled in John Jay, where he says he had a tough time adjusting to the new pace of life. That no longer seems to be the case — this international student has hit his stride.

“I enjoy singing, performing, whatever gets me on stage. But I also enjoy using my talents for advocacy,” he said.

The new production seemed to fit this requirement. The show, which opened for five performances at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater beginning April 6, explores the true story of the first black theater company in New York.

The African Company operated out of a theater called The African Grove, which was located near the whites-only Park Theater. Fearful of the competition (the African Grove welcomed huge crowds of both whites and blacks), the Park Theater’s white owner staged a riot in order to close down The African Grove. But The African Company prevailed, renting a hall next door and staging a performance of “Richard III” on the very same night as their neighbors.

Smith, who plays William Henry Brown, the owner of the African Company and the first black theater owner in the United States, said working on the production and being involved in theater arts at John Jay benefited him on a personal level. “When I came to John Jay, I had a hard time adjusting, not only to a new school, but to the U.S. I knew that the best way shake the homesickness was to start getting involved.” 

With the encouragement of his best friend Kadeem Robinson, he was elected to the Student Council as a Sophomore Representative. Robinson had attended high school with Smith in Jamaica, and is now Secretary of Student Council. “My interpersonal skills improved, I would engage more with people, I would feel comfortable in strange places,” said Smith. “All of the skills I learned from being in theater helped me with the adjustments to school and New York City.” Smith also credited the John Jay Wellness Center as being a “treasure trove of support.”

Smith grew up in Spaldings, a rural town in central Jamaica known as one of the first free villages in the country following the abolition of slavery. His father was a police officer and his mother a seamstress who later became an art teacher. “They have always been the ones to encourage me to follow my dreams, and to ensure that whatever I set my mind to, I do it to the absolute best of my abilities,” Smith said.

Smith is a Macaulay Honors student and hopes to pursue a career as a lawyer working in international, immigration, or human rights law. “I want a profession that allows me to be of service to my fellow man. That’s a passion for me,” he said.

Read ‘Em and Celebrate!

Thirty-one faculty members representing 14 different academic departments were honored at a presidential reception on March 23 for the books they had published in 2016. The published works included the third and final volume of Distinguished Professor Blanche Wiesen Cook’s three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a Spanish-language edition of Professors David Brotherton and Luis Barrios’s seminal work on the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, and two works on electoral politics by Professor Heath Brown. A broad range of topics was represented, including voting rights, mass incarceration, criminal justice ethics, Frankenstein, Dr. Joyce Brothers, cybercriminology, art crime, homeland security, and Latinos and criminal justice.


In the Name of the Law

The annual Law Day event at John Jay, held this year on March 24, provides John Jay students with an opportunity to learn about the law school application process, strategies for succeeding in law school, and financial aid options. Law Day, presented by the College’s Pre-Law Institute, this year also served as a homecoming for keynote speaker Muhammad U. Faridi, a 2004 alumnus of John Jay, who delivered the Samuel and Anna Jacobs Foundation Lecture on the Law and the Legal Profession. Faridi is a Partner in the litigation department of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, and was named the 2014 Outstanding Young Lawyer by the New York State Bar Association. Click here for a gallery of Law Day photos.