CARLINVILLE - Blackburn College will host Cyntoia Brown-Long, author and advocate for criminal justice reform and victims of trafficking, as a speaker on Monday, April 3, at 7:00 PM in Bothwell Auditorium. As part of Blackburn’s observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Brown-Long will share her journey of being trafficked and arrested during her early teenage years, being tried as an adult and incarcerated for killing a man who solicited her for sex, and her path to redemption inside and after prison. A Q&A and book signing will follow. Tickets go on sale to the public for the free event on March 3.
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"Cyntoia's life is both remarkable and inspirational simply from a human point of view, but I am convinced that Blackburn's students will especially benefit from her visit,” said Al Sturgeon, Vice President for Diverse and Equitable Student Life and Dean of Students at Blackburn. “A college education had a transformative impact on Cyntoia's life while in prison, and her message continues to provide a perspective that transforms others."
Her memoir, "Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System," written while in prison, documents her early years and the 15 years she was incarcerated. Set against the shocking backdrop of a life behind bars and the injustice of sentencing sex-trafficked juveniles as adults, she struggled to overcome a legacy of birth-family addiction and a lifetime of being ostracized and abandoned by society. Brown-Long stated of her time in prison, “I was just a teenager when I was sent to live behind a razor-wire fence. My entire coming of age was within the walls of the Tennessee Prison for Women.”
Her life changed dramatically when the prison education principal took her under her wing and introduced her to a spiritual path. She was encouraged to build a positive life in prison and to resist the negative influences that lead to despair. The journey that followed was a roller coaster ride that included earning a college degree from Lipscomb University while inside prison, an unauthorized Netflix documentary about her life, a profound encounter with God, an unlikely romance, and, eventually, a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. She received unprecedented national and international support from social media advocates, pastors, and celebrities and was finally released from prison on August 7, 2019.
Part of the Blackburn event will include a Q&A with Brown-Long, moderated by Blackburn’s Chair of the Leadership, Law and Public Service Department, Dr. Laura Wiedlocher.
"Cynotia's journey from victim to advocate is an opportunity for students to learn about the complexities within the US justice system,” Wiedlocher shared. “Students have been studying cases like Cyntoia's in their course work and in some classes, even Cyntoia's case. Being afforded the opportunity to meet Cyntoia and hear her story makes the abstract concrete.”
She added, “This event would not be possible without the endowed speaker series donation given by the Eberle family and collaboration across campus groups." In addition to the Kathleen J. Eberle Memorial Lecture Series fund, the event is sponsored by the Campus Activities Board, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as funds from the Office of the President.
Brown-Long stated that she hopes her story will inspire others and shine a light on the injustice many still face, especially the injustice to women and children in American prisons. She continues to work with service providers, judicial bodies, and correctional agencies to provide training, auditing, and coaching designed to develop a dignified and empowering approach to corrections, programming, and case management. Alongside her husband, Jaime, she also co-founded The JFAM Foundation to better serve and advocate for individuals affected by human trafficking, youth services involvement, and incarceration.
She was awarded the 2022 Leadership Prize from the Juvenile Law Center for her work in advocating for justice-involved youth. In January 2020, the Vera Institute of Justice recognized Cyntoia as one of the Best of Justice Reform honorees. She was a 2020 Nominee for the NAACP Literary Image Award and has been featured as a guest columnist for the Washington Post.
Tickets are required for this free program, which will begin at 7:00 PM in Bothwell Auditorium on the Blackburn campus. Copies of her book “Free Cyntoia” are available for purchase in Blackburn’s Campus Bookstore and following the event during the book signing. Find more information and reserve tickets at blackburn.edu/cyntoia.
About Blackburn College
Founded in 1837, Blackburn College is a four-year, Presbyterian-related, co-educational liberal arts college located in Carlinville, IL. One of only ten federally-recognized Work Colleges, Blackburn has the only program in the nation fully managed by students. Balancing academic rigor and experiential learning, each student at Blackburn gains tangible experience and develops critical skills by contributing to their community, all while building a resume and earning their degree. U.S. News & World Report recognized Blackburn College as one of the top Liberal Arts Colleges in the Nation for Social Mobility in their Best Colleges lists for 2020, 2021, and 2022. The Center for Education & the Workforce at Georgetown University ranked Blackburn as a top performer for Earnings-Price Return - 209% (#1 in IL, #10 in the U.S.) and Net Price (#1 in IL; #11 in the U.S.). The Washington Monthly twice ranked Blackburn as the best baccalaureate college in Illinois.
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