10+ local difference makers
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Passion for justice
From her perch at the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School, Cristina Bordé poured over the demographics of exonerations and found that Latinos were underrepresented in that population. She would secure a grant and add a new title — director of the Latino Exoneration Program, a two-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide legal representation to incarcerated Latino inmates for the purpose of obtaining DNA testing to prove their innocence.
The current project is nearing its end and is limited to DNA cases, but it has enabled Bordé to investigate and litigate innocence cases, a process that can take years. “We are in the process of investigating and litigating several of these cases,” she notes.
Bordé would like to expand the work to nationwide, non-DNA cases because 50% of exonerations are based on perjury, and she would like to re-investigate more cases through a nonprofit center. She notes that systematic problems that lead to wrongful convictions include misidentification from eyewitnesses and false confessions, sometimes under extreme duress from interrogators. Cultural differences related to language barriers, interpretation problems, or simply “cultural incompetence” also contribute to wrongful convictions.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in identifying the causes of wrongful convictions, and we’re trying to reform the system to prevent the things that we know lead to wrongful convictions,” Bordé states. “It’s an important thing that we should be addressing, not only because someone is spending decades in prison for something they didn’t do, but because the real perpetrator is going free.”
Will Green, founder of Mentoring Positives, is as aware as anyone of the surge of hope troubled young people get when adults, whether or not they are family members, care enough to reach out. He established Mentoring Positives 14 years ago to help at-risk youth in Madison’s low-income Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood.
Thanks to recent grant awards, Green will be able to help more at-risk kids. In what he characterizes as a “whirlwind” period, Green received the coveted Nan Cheney March for Justice Award from Forward Community Investments, which comes with $15,000. Then he got another $5,000 award the night he accepted the March for Justice award at Monona Terrace. The next morning, he received a call from UW Health and received $10,000 more.
All of that was on top of a $175,000 commitment from the CUNA Mutual Foundation, all to do what he does best — build mentoring relationships, keep promising young people on the right track, and empower people with opportunities to grow economically. Sometimes, that means a college track, as is the case with one young man, Jivonte Lee Davis, who Green has known since Davis was nine years old. Davis, one of about 2,500 kids Mentoring Positives has helped, is now a college student majoring in business, and he recently took to Facebook to post a tribute to Green.
Green is a self-described “old soul” who hails from Gary, Indiana. One of his life’s blessings is there were people willing to mentor him at a young age in an environment of violence and drug abuse, and Mentoring Positives is simply his way of “paying it forward.”