For Freedoms Town Hall: Faith, Art, and (In)Justice

May 24, 2018 / 6:30pm

Free and open to all

In partnership with For Freedoms and The City Club of Cleveland

6:30PM: Reception featuring Sherrill Roland’s The Jumpsuit Project
7:30PM: Town Hall Discussion


Gwendolyn Garth, artist (Cleveland)
Andrew Genszler, CEO of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (Cleveland)
Sherrill Roland, artist (North Carolina)
Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, activist, musician, author, filmmaker, theologian (St. Louis) 

Moderated by Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland, will moderate our discussion. 

Hosted by For Freedoms co-founders, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman

If you saw a black man wearing an orange jumpsuit walking down the street, what would you think? How would you feel?

North Carolina artist Sherrill Roland (1984) discusses these and other questions with people through his work, The Jumpsuit Project. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to a prison uniform, Roland occupies public spaces to create opportunities for open and honest conversations about justice, mass incarceration, and the prison experience in America. The Jumpsuit Project draws upon Roland’s personal experience in 2013 of being wrongfully imprisoned for over a year, just months before he was to begin his graduate studies in fine arts. 

Like the stories of over 2.2 million people in America who are incarcerated today, Roland’s experience delves into the heart of one of our country’s most urgent crises. Today, the United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population, yet it houses 21% of the world’s prisoners, the highest incarceration rate in the world. This crisis has disproportionately affected people of color, with African Americans incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. We will consider these and other issues during MOCA Cleveland’s next For Freedoms Town Hall: FAITH, ART, AND (INJUSTICE). We want to hear your voice at this event as we discuss faith- and art-inspired efforts to combat mass incarceration, motivate prison reform, and support reentry. 

While imprisonment divides families and changes the life course of innumerable individuals, the consequences also dismantle a central part of our democracy – equal participation. Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally. In total, 2.2 million black citizens are currently banned from voting, creating a inseparable link between racism, state control, and the criminal justice system. This issue is of core concern for the artist-run initiative For Freedoms, who are promoting and discussing political engagement and agency in every US state leading up to the November mid-term elections. 

But what does faith have to do with mass incarceration? 

Identified as “one of the most courageous and prophetic voices of our time” by Cornel West, activist, writer, musician and faith leader Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou—one of the panelists at this event—argues that religion must be used for the expansion of democracy and has focus on organizing against police violence, predatory court systems, and economic and social injustice. Acclaimed civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reminds us that faith—and thus morality—are deeply interwoven in American culture:

“As a society, our decision to heap shame and contempt upon those who struggle and fail in a system designed to keep them locked up and locked out says far more about ourselves than it does about them […] All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” 

Religious organizations across the country have identified prison reform as a top priority in their social justice work. Catholics draw inspiration from Pope Francis, who washed the feet of 12 prisoners on Holy Thursday to express Jesus Christ’s mandate to serve marginalized people. Reform Ohio, which brings Reform Jews from across Ohio together in the pursuit of justice in our state, chose criminal justice reform as its first issue campaign. The Greater Cleveland Congregations, an interfaith association of over 35 faith-based organizations, works actively to reform the criminal justice system in Cuyahoga County by creating change and accountability through the office of the county prosecutor. Cleveland-based artist Gwendolyn Garth founded Kings & Queens of Art, which focuses on supporting and engaging with artists who are reentering the community following incarceration.

How do you think can faith and art play a role in bringing solutions to the American prison system? Please join us for this important conversation. Prior to the program, we invite you a reception where you can meet and talk with the panelists including Sherrill Roland, who will present The Jumpsuit Project on MOCA’s free ground floor. 

MOCA Cleveland and For Freedoms, an artist-run initiative founded by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, have partnered in a two-year residency focused on a series of free, quarterly Town Hall discussions inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s historic Four Freedoms speech outlining four essential human rights: freedom from want, from fear, of worship, and of expression. Co-produced with The City Club of Cleveland, the nation’s oldest continuous forum for free speech, these programs provide safe, open platforms for audiences and panelists to have topical conversations that seek to encourage a more active, collaborative, inclusive, and empathic community. 


GWENDOLYN GARTH, a longtime resident of Cleveland, is an activist and artist who has worked as a community organizer for a decade. She is the founder of Kings & Queens of Art, a grassroots collaboration of artists of all disciplines and backgrounds, and a member of the Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) Board of Trustees. Kings & Queens of Art is focused on supporting and engaging with artists who are reentering the community following incarceration. The organization strives to build a network of artists and resources that supports a vibrant arts environment in a neighborhood context. Garth has completed a two-year fellowship with Neighborhood Connections as a Network Weaver. She is a graduate of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program and of Cuyahoga Community College's Women in Transition Program. She is a Precinct Committeeman in Cleveland's Ward 5 and an Executive Committee member of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. She has also served as Ohio's State Leader for AmeriCorps and as City of Cleveland's Division of Recreation Chapter Chairperson of AFSCME Local 100 and Manager of Cultural Arts for the same agency. 

ANDREW D. GENSZLER has been the President and CEO of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry since June of 2013. From 2007 to 2013 Genszler was the Director for Advocacy with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This position included leadership of offices in Washington, D.C., at the United Nations, and in 19 state capitals, as well as a Corporate Social Responsibility office. Previously Genszler was the Associate Director for Public Policy for Lutheran Services in America (LSA), a national umbrella of social service organizations. In both positions, he led national campaigns to address hunger and housing policy and his portfolio included health, economic development, and budget issues. A 1991 graduate of Wittenberg University in political science, Genszler has a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus and completed a thesis year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. He earned a Master’s degree from the University of Oxford in 2004. He was a student intern for Congressman David L. Hobson. Genszler is a chaplain in the United States Navy Reserve.

Genszler has also worked for the Cleveland Interfaith Hospitality Network (now Family Promise), an organization serving homeless families. He has served on the boards of the Alliance to End Hunger and the Coalition on Human Needs, national inter-sector responses to hunger and poverty and currently serves on the Advocacy Committee of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and the Board of Directors for Campus District, Inc. and Maximum Accessible Housing Ohio. He and his family live in Cleveland Heights.

ERIC GOTTESMAN photographs, writes, makes videos, teaches and uses art as a vehicle to explore aesthetic, social and political culture. His photographs have been shown at many galleries and institutions, including the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; MoMA PS1, Queens; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College; the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; and Addis Adaba City Hall, Ethiopia. In 2014, he published his celebrated first monograph, “Sudden Flowers” (Fishbar, London), and co-founded For Freedoms, an artist-run Super PAC, with artist Hank Willis Thomas. Gottesman is the recipient of a 2017 International Center of Photography Infinity Award, a 2015 Creative Capital Artist Grant, and a 2010 Fulbright Fellowship in art as well as an Artadia Award, an Aaron Siskind Foundation Artist Fellowship, a Massachusetts Individual Artist Fellowship and other grants and awards. In 2017, he was an artist-in-residence at MoMA/PS1 and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, Ohio. His work is in various collections, including in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He is an Assistant Professor of Art at the State University of New York (Purchase College) and a Mentor in the Arab Documentary Photography Project in Beirut, Lebanon.

DAN MOULTHROP is CEO of The City Club of Cleveland, one of the nation's great free speech forums. Founded in 1912, The City Club convenes over 120 programs every year on just about every issue and topic of importance to Northeast Ohio. He was a co-founder of The Civic Commons, a Knight Foundation project creating a social media environment designed for civil civic dialogue. Prior to that, he was the host of Sound of Ideas on 90.3 WCPN ideastream. Dan serves on the board of the Teacher Salary Project, the advisory boards of Facing History New Tech High School and Borderlight, and was a member of the Leadership Cleveland Class of 2014. Dan is also co-author, with Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari, of the best-selling book Teachers Have it Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers (The New Press, 2005), which provided the basis for the 2011 documentary "American Teacher." He's an award winning local public radio host, a former high school teacher and a graduate of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with his wife and three children.

REVEREND OSAGYEFO UHURU SEKOU, known as Rev. Sekou, is a noted activist, theologian, author, documentary filmmaker, and musician. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in the rural Arkansas Delta. In May 2015, he moved back to St. Louis to focus on organizing against police violence, predatory court systems, and economic and social injustice. He has studied continental philosophy at the New School, systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary, and religion at Harvard University, subjects on which he has lectured at venues such as Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School, the University of Virginia, and University of Paris IV - La Sorbonne. His work as a musician includes the release of critically acclaimed albums “In Times like These” in 2017 and “The Revolution Has Come” in 2016. 

He is the author of two collections of essays, “urbansouls”, a meditation on poor black youth in St. Louis, hip hop, and religion, and “Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy;” he is also currently working on two manuscripts, “This is Not Your Daddy’s Civil Rights Movement: Black Lives Matter and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,“ and “A Liberation Theology of Ferguson.” Rev. Sekou was selected by Ebony Magazine’s Power 100, NAACP History Makers (2015), and is on the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100–list of creative thinkers. 

SHERRILL ROLAND is an artist and activist working in Morrisville, North Carolina, which is near his native Asheville. He received both his BFA and MFA degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) in 2017 and 2009 respectively. Roland’s ongoing socially engaged performance project, The Jumpsuit Project was initiated in the fall of 2016 during his studies at UNCG. The Jumpsuit Project is an interactive performance that is focused on raising awareness around issues related to mass incarceration, the challenges of re-entry, and the long term effects incarceration has on the imprisoned, as well as their family and friends. The Jumpsuit Project was born out of the artist’s personal experience. In 2012 Roland was arrested and falsely indicted on four felony counts. Over the course of a three year period Roland spent more than 10 months in prison before being fully exonerated and granted a bill of innocence. Roland has presented and spoken about the project throughout the United States in cities including, Los Angeles, CA; Oakland, CA; Brooklyn, NY; Greensboro, NC; Jackson, MS; and Perrysburg, OH. Roland’s work has been shown in solo and groups presentations throughout the United States including exhibitions, On the Inside Out, Richmond Center for Visual Arts, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI (2018); Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the American Justice System, CAM Houston, TX (2018); Black Blooded, The New Gallery of Modern Art, Charlotte, NC (2018); and Fictions, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2017). 

HANK WILLIS THOMAS is a photo conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies from New York University and his MFA/MA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of Arts. He has exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad including, the International Center of Photography, Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, among others. Thomas’ work is in numerous public collections including The Museum of Modern Art New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The High Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

His collaborative projects have been featured at the Sundance Film Festival and installed permanently at the Oakland International Airport, The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, The Oakland Museum of California, and the University of California, San Francisco. He is also and a recipient of the New Media grant from Tribeca Film Institute and New Media Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography for his transmedia project, Question Bridge: Black Males. Recent notable exhibitions include Hank Willis Thomas at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Repetition and Difference at the Jewish Museum in New York. He sits in the Public Design Commission for the city of New York. Thomas is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City and Goodman Gallery in South Africa.


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For Freedoms Town Halls at MOCA Cleveland are sponsored by Ohio Arts Council with additional support from Thompson Hine LLP

All current exhibitions are funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Leadership Circle gifts from anonymous donors, Yuval Brisker, Joanne Cohen and Morris Wheeler, Margaret Cohen and Kevin Rahilly, Becky Dunn, Harriet Goldberg, Agnes Gund, Michelle and Richard Jeschelnig, Donna and Stewart Kohl, Jan Lewis, Toby Devan Lewis, and Scott Mueller.

All MOCA Cleveland exhibitions are supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the continuing support of the Museum’s Board of Directors, patrons, and members.