Criminal Justice: Engaging the Community to Create Change

Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF)

In recent years, there has been a movement to address racially motivated violence against Black people, putting a spotlight on America’s criminal justice system.

Nicole Austin-Hillery, President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a multifaceted approach to criminal justice reform, including community engagement opportunities to address challenges in Black communities.

Posted on:

January 31, 2024

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin and the public outcry that followed put a spotlight on the inequities of America's criminal justice system. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Almost one year following Floyd's death, Chauvin was convicted. And according to law enforcement experts, this is a rare outcome. Joining me to discuss some strategies to reform the criminal justice system and to address the challenges faced by Black communities is Nicole Austin-Hillery. She is the president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. And, Nicole, thank you so much for being here.

Austin-Hillery: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So, you say that the killing of George Floyd really was a pivot point. It was a mile marker in American history for many people. Why that moment?

Austin-Hillery: You know, the fact that we were in the middle of a pandemic when that happened meant that everyone was myopically focused. There was nothing else to take people's attentions away from that horrific crime. And it also was a moment when people could look inwardly, whether they be individuals, organizations, and ask the question, "What are we doing as a country? How are we really dealing with race? And how are we grappling with it? And what should we be doing about race?" So that was why that moment was so pivotal. And it was, frankly, a game changer.

Anderson: And a lot of your work is about educating the Black community, and a bulk of that is criminal justice reform. What are you recommending?

Austin-Hillery: Well, let me tell you, because I think it's helpful for everyone to understand. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has a very simple mission, and that is to empower the global Black community. And we do that through research. We do that through education. And we do that through a leadership institute which ensures that we are helping to support and formulate the next body and the next generation of Black leaders. And so for us in our research, what we ask ourselves is, what do communities need? What are the tools that they require so that they can be empowered and be the voices for themselves? And that's what we do through our Center for Policy Analysis and Research. Criminal justice reform is one of those issue areas that we have been told time and time again by community members that needs attention and that they want to figure out, how can they be the movers and shakers in their own communities and the directors of their own futures? And so we provide research and information that allows them to do just that. We provide the tools so that they can be the change-makers they want to see in their own communities.

Anderson: So addressing and changing outcomes is also a large part of your work, and you have some specific areas that you're focusing on. And you say getting people to talk is one of the biggest things that you have to do. So give us some specifics on your issues and tell us how you're getting those conversations going.

Austin-Hillery: Well, communication, as we know, is a big part of this. We are doing something at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that we call Community Conversations, where we are meeting people right where they live and right where they work. We are going around the country to certain jurisdictions and talking to them about the issues that are of the greatest concern in their communities. One we did this past year was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we all know the history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. And in that community, we talked about issues around crime and justice. We were also in Detroit, Michigan, where we focused on, how do you make communities safe? And we looked at, what are the reforms that you need? Do we need more community policing? Do we need to ensure that members of law enforcement are well-trained around mental health issues, around juvenile justice, around community policing? All of those things. And our work lays out what we think some of the recommendations are that these communities should consider. And so when we were in Detroit, when we were in Tulsa, that's what we talked about. But it was up to those communities to decide what works for them, but we gave them the resources so that they would have that information and could make those decisions.

Anderson: And you've got a lot of resources. One of them is the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, and I know that you've got four pillars that you're focused on. Tell us a little bit about them and why they're important for the future of your work.

Austin-Hillery: For us, those four pillars are key. We think they encompass everything. They look at health. We are looking at voting rights. We're looking at technology. And we are also looking at economic empowerment. All of those things, Tetiana, are inextricably linked. If you don't have good health, if you don't have technology so that you can utilize resources, if you don't have the power of the vote, which in a democracy is the biggest tool that anyone has -- If you don't have all of those things working together, then you really are powerless as a community. So we are talking to people about -- and we're producing information and reports -- on how you can utilize all of those areas of those pillars to ensure that you're giving your communities the resources that it needs and so that you can ensure that you are making real policy reforms. Look, Tetiana, I'm one for saying to my team and to everyone who works with us -- I don't like to just have nice words on paper. I like to give people information that they can use, that they can actually take out into their communities and create real change with it. And we think focusing on those pillars allows us to do that.

Anderson: So, I know people are going to want to know a lot more about those pillars and everything else you do. What is your website? Where can they look?

Austin-Hillery: People can go to to learn more information about the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and what we do. There are drop-down menus. You pull on one of those, and it will give you information about the Leadership Institute, the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, our annual legislative conference, and anything else you might want to know about our work.

Anderson: Nicole Austin-Hillery with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Thank you for being here.

Austin-Hillery: You are welcome, Tetiana. Thank you for having us on.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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