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GBIO leader Beverly Williams Receives JALSA’s Community Champion Award for her Work on Criminal Justice Reform

GBIO leader Beverly Williams Receives JALSA’s Community Champion Award for her Work on Criminal Justice Reform

Thursday, March 29, 2018
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
In January 2018, Beverly Williams was honored as a recipient of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action’s Community Champion Award. Beverly, along with Alan Epstein, Co-Chairs the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization's Criminal Justice Reform team has led the organization's 40+ congregations in the pursuit of meaningful criminal justice reform legislation.
 
After GBIO committed to a four point Criminal Justice Reform platform in 2016, Beverly and her team began bringing these issues directly to legislators.  GBIO’s platform included (1) Repealing Mandatory minimums for drug offenses, (2) pretrial and bail reform, (3) eliminating excessive post-release fees and fines, and (4) eliminating excessive time in solitary confinement. GBIO leaders held face-to-face in-district actions with State Senators and Representatives throughout Greater Boston, then built networks of allies, including Reform Jewish Congregations and African Methodist Episcopal leaders throughout Massachusetts, who could meet with legislators in vital swing-districts.
 
As a result, all four of GBIO’s issues were addressed in October’s ground-breaking Senate Bill, as well as the House’s slightly more conservative November bill, described by the Boston Globe as the house’s  "most sweeping criminal justice bill in years.” Details are now being worked out in conference committee.
 
Beverly is most proud of GBIO’s success on mandatory minimums. “Nothing had moved on this issue for 18 years,” says Beverly. “When the Council of State Government did a study of our MA criminal justice system, back in 2016, mandatory minimums were not even under review. For us to have pushed it, and now it’s in conference, that’s a big deal!”
 
Beverly’s passion for this issue is deeply personal.  “In my community, the reality is most young men between 18 and 25 are locked up. I could see that locking people up and punishing them, especially in low-level crimes, was not the answer.” She was determined to change a system that left many low-income people and people of color locked in a cycle of incarceration and poverty.
 
As Beverly became more involved in the fight for justice, she realized, “It wasn’t just about investing in the issue but about investing in myself. For me to have an impact, I had to develop my own leadership skills.” She attended an IAF regional training and built new skills by diving into the work, taking on new roles, even when she wasn’t sure she was ready. “I had to build relationships with powerful people, with people in the streets,with people I hadn’t had relationships with before. In having these relationships, in listening to other peoples’ stories and impressions and thoughts, I learned more about myself. I learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
 
Although she is honored to receive the Community Champion Award, Beverly is clear that there is “still much more work to be done.” Of the House and Senate bills, she says, “if we get a major win out of this, there are going to be more people out of prisons and we need to keep fighting for them. We need to make sure they get much-needed services. We need to get them into jobs.”