Auburn University at Montgomery’s (AUM) annual Martin Luther King Jr. Reflections Breakfast will explore the theme — and power — of second chances.
Motivational speaker, author and criminal justice reform advocate Cyntoia Brown-Long, who was granted clemency by former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in 2019 after serving 15 years of a life sentence, will discuss her search for redemption as the event’s featured speaker. The event, set for Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 8 a.m. in AUM Taylor Center rooms 221-223, is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to register for the event online by Wednesday, Jan. 15 to confirm a seat since space is limited.
Auburn University at Montgomery Chancellor Carl A. Stockton said the annual MLK Reflections Breakfast provides important programming for students and Montgomery community members alike.
“It’s important for us to remember, celebrate and reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, especially in light of Montgomery’s status as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement,” Stockton said. “The City of Montgomery and our nation as a whole are much different than they were when Dr. King came to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church as a 25-year-old pastor in 1954. While this event offers an opportunity to celebrate Dr. King’s role as a change agent, it also serves as a call to action for attendees to build on his legacy of servant leadership and promoting equality for all.”
Brown-Long’s keynote address will focus specifically on servant leadership, but her personal story will also touch on her personal redemption and rehabilitation. A victim of sex-trafficking and domestic violence, Brown-Long was convicted of the 2004 murder of Johnny Allen, a Nashville real estate agent who picked her up with the intention of having sex. Brown-Long, who was 16 at the time of her conviction and sentencing, told police she shot the 43-year-old in self defense, fearing he was reaching for a gun.
At 31, she was granted clemency by then-Tennessee Gov. Haslam, who cited her age at the time of the shooting and her rehabilitation behind bars. She was released in August 2019. Her quest for clemency earned support from Republican and Democrat politicians alike, as well as celebrities like Rihanna, Kanye West, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian, and resulted in media coverage from CBS News, PBS and NBC’s “Today” show, among others. Brown-Long, who married R&B musician and entrepreneur Jamie Long in 2019, recently released a memoir — “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System.”
AUM Dean of Student Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion Josh Roberts came to know Brown-Long through his previous position as dean of student development at Nashville’s Lipscomb University. While serving her sentence at Tennessee Prison for Women, Brown-Long earned her GED and completed her associate and bachelor’s degrees through Lipscomb University. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average when she received her bachelor of professional studies in organizational leadership.
“I hope that attendees are deeply impacted by two parts of Cyntoia’s story – first, our nation’s real need for criminal justice reform advocates and, second, the power of education,” said Roberts, who joined AUM in November 2019. “While Cyntoia was incarcerated, I had the opportunity to teach her inside the prison classroom and meet with her outside of the classroom. She was always prepared for class, engaged in discussion, and studied hard for her exams.
“She was also a very engaged student who encouraged classroom discussion, asked thoughtful questions, and challenged those around her to become better students.”
Roberts said Brown-Long’s message will offer powerful takeaways for AUM students and Montgomery community members who attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Reflections Breakfast.
“Mrs. Brown-Long is a living testament to the power of perseverance, determination and education,” Roberts said. “While in prison, Mrs. Brown-Long earned her associate degree and bachelor’s degree, all while being denied the educational resources that are available to most students. She has persevered through seemingly insurmountable obstacles and become a powerful example of redemption and rehabilitation.”