American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once wrote that “the first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.” All too often as Americans, we choose to brush aside evidence of serious, systemic problems in our society instead of doing something about it. Grammy-award winner John Legend has decided not to sit by and observe the injustice anymore; as of Monday, he has launched his “Free America” campaign to address the issue of mass incarceration throughout the nation.

 

Legend spoke to the Huffington Post about the matter:

“We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country. … [Mass incarceration is] destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration.”

 

By current statistics, the American prison system experiences severe overcrowding, with 17 states operating with prisoner populations beyond maximum capacity.

 

An overcrowded California prison where prisoners are stacked three to a bunk.

A California prison where prisoners are stacked three to a bunk (AP Photo)

The singer will travel to Texas on Thursday, where he will visit and perform at a correctional facility in Austin. He will participate in a press conference while in the state, and then move on to similar events in other regions, such as California and Washington, D.C. Legend claims that the campaign has already seen victories, such as the approval of Proposition 47 in California; that legislation proposes reduction of penalties for certain crimes — such as minor theft and drug charges — from felonies to misdemeanors. This can go a long way towards easing the process of rejoining society, as a felony record can make finding a job difficult.

 

Fresh off of Legend’s Oscar win for “Selma,” it’s not hard to see the racial component to this campaign. During his acceptance speech alongside rapper Common, Legend told the crowd “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

 

The LA Times reports that between incarceration, probation, and parole, almost 1.7 million African-Americans were processed by the judicial system in 2013. Outside of the prison issue, the string of recent deaths of blacks at the hands of police officers, as well as general abuses, have only added to the need for reform. Whether intentional or not, systemic racism still runs rampant in our justice system, and something needs to be done about it.

 

How do you feel about John Legends new campaign? What other injustices plague our country? Comment below or tweet @connerws to give us your take,