Charis welcomes Marlon Peterson in conversation with Ruby-Beth Buitekant for a celebration of Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist’s Freedom Song. From a leading prison abolitionist, a moving memoir about coming of age in Brooklyn and surviving incarceration—and a call to break free from all the cages that confine us. Bird Uncaged is a twenty-first-century abolitionist memoir, and a powerful debut that demands a shift from punishment to healing, an end to prisons, and a new vision of justice. This event is co-hosted by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. This event takes place on crowdcast, Charis’ virtual event platform.
Marlon Peterson grew up in 1980s Crown Heights, raised by Trinidadian immigrants. Amid the routine violence that shaped his neighborhood, Marlon became a high-achieving and devout child, the specter of the American dream opening up before him. But in the aftermath of immense trauma, he participated in a robbery that resulted in two murders. At nineteen, Peterson was charged and later convicted. He served ten long years in prison. While incarcerated, Peterson immersed himself in anti-violence activism, education, and prison abolition work.
In Bird Uncaged, Peterson challenges the typical “redemption” narrative and our assumptions about justice. With vulnerability and insight, he uncovers the many cages—from the daily violence and trauma of poverty, to policing, to enforced masculinity, and the brutality of incarceration—created and maintained by American society.
Marlon Peterson is the principal of The Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm. He is host of the Decarcerated Podcast, a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity, a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and a 2015 recipient of the Soros Justice Fellowship. Ebony Magazine has named him one of America’s 100 most influential and inspiring leaders in the Black community. His TED Talk, “Am I not human? a call for criminal justice reform,” has over 1.2 million views. He contributed to Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin’s How We Fight White Supremacy. His writing has appeared in Ebony, The Nation, USA Today, Colorlines, and more. A graduate of New York University, he lives in Brooklyn and plays the steelpan during the summer.
Ruby-Beth Buitekant is a radical southern lawyer, facilitator, and speaker. She is currently the Associate Director of Movement Partnerships at the Movement Law Lab, an organization committed to building power in black and brown communities by incubating legal projects. They work to combine law and community organizing to protect, defend, and embolden justice movements. She is a current board member of Charis Circle.
A life-long activist, Ruby-Beth has worked as a consultant for organizations and workplaces tackling issues of racism and organizational development. During her time as a Graduate Fellow at the City University School of Law (CUNY), Ruby-Beth worked as a Law Clerk with Gideon’s Promise at the Dekalb County Public Defenders and as an Ella Baker Fellow with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Before her legal education, Buitekant managed the Center for Court Innovation’s anti-gun violence program Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.) in Brooklyn, New York. She developed youth programming for young folks working to rid their communities of gun violence through peer education and training. She grew up in Atlanta, GA, and loves calling the south home.
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