The 2012 Smithsonian magazine American Ingenuity Award winners, including EJI Director Bryan Stevenson, will be presented trophies at a special ceremony later today in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards shed light on brilliant new achievements in science, technology, art and society by identifying the most innovative individuals working in America today.
EJI is being recognized for our work confronting mass incarceration, challenging adult prosecution and extreme sentences imposed on children, and changing the dialogue about racial inequality in America past and present.
EJI is arguing that mass incarceration defines us as a society, the way slavery once did. As the Smithsonian magazine reported, the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but imprisons a quarter of the world’s inmates. Most of those 2.3 million inmates are people of color.
One out of every three Black men in their 20s is in jail or prison, on probation or parole, or bound in some other way to the criminal justice system. Once again families are broken apart. Once again huge numbers of Black men are disenfranchised, because of their criminal records. Without reform, it is estimated that 40% of the Black male population in Alabama will permanently lose the right to vote as the result of a criminal conviction.
In opening a discussion of American justice and America’s racial history, EJI hopes to help create a common national narrative, one built finally around truth rather than on the cultivated myths of the past, that will allow Americans finally to move forward.
Nine winners representing the visual arts, natural sciences, social progress, youth achievement, technology, performing arts, physical sciences, historical scholarship, and education will receive awards tonight. EJI will receive the social progress award, joining Jack Andraka, a high school sophomore who invented a new method to detect a lethal cancer, innovative bassist and jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, and Sebastian Thrun, robotocist and founder of Google’s autonomous-car program, who is revolutionizing online education to make higher education more available and affordable than ever before.