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  • Michigan Center for Youth Justice

Board Spotlight Series: Ronald Simpson-Bey

*Note: The material that is mentioned in this interview may be triggering to some individuals. Topics include gun violence, familial loss, and wrongful conviction. Please take care of yourself and proceed with caution as you read.

We are excited to share our second Board Member Spotlight, a blog series that showcases the incredible individuals who make up MCYJ’s board of directors. This month features Ronald Simpson-Bey, a national leader in the movement to decarcerate America, currently working as the Executive Vice President for JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA). Ronald is an LPI-trained leadership coach and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab (PJIL) at the Texas LBJ School of Law. He also serves as the Board Treasurer for both the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and MCYJ; additionally, he is one of the co-founders of both the Nation Outside and the Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration (MI-CEMI) organizations. He formerly served as the Vice-Chair for the ABA Criminal Justice Section Victims Committee and as a Special Advisor for the ABA Criminal Justice Section Council.

What do you like most about being an MCYJ board member?

Being a Michigan native and having had a longtime interest in serving criminal justice reform efforts in Michigan and across the country, being a board member provides me with an essential and viable avenue to do so. On Father’s Day 2001, my only son, who was 21 at the time, was shot and killed by a 14-year-old in Flint, Michigan. Instead of seeking retribution, I advocated for the child to be treated as a child and not an adult and forced into the adult prison system. Serving on the board is one of many ways that I make sure that my son’s death is not in vain.

What would you like fellow juvenile justice reform advocates to know about you?

That I am a vital force among forces and refuse to be the victim of a pre-arranged destiny! I served 27 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections from 1985-2012 on a wrongful conviction. I fought all those years for my innocence, and I wrote the habeas corpus appeal that won my freedom. While I was incarcerated, I developed and facilitated many programs to assist the youth incarcerated in Michigan prisons. Even after my release, at my previous job at the American Friends Service Committee, I developed a co-mentorship program called the Good Neighbor Project that connected both incarcerated adults and youth to people in the community to educate and elevate both parties’ understanding of what it takes to be a good citizen.

What are your broad goals for 2024 surrounding juvenile justice reform?

I have two broad goals in 2024 surrounding juvenile justice reform. First, my organization, JustLeadershipUSA, has an adult leadership development program called Emerging Leaders (EL) for directly impacted people. The EL training imparts and elevates the skills necessary to help someone advocate effectively for themselves and their community. Last year, we partnered with a juvenile justice organization out of New York City, Exalt, to adjust the adult curriculum and make it suitable for youth training. We had a successful pilot training event in New York, and one of my goals is to scale it up and export it to juvenile facilities and organizations nationwide.

Second, JLUSA believes in investing in the leadership of others. Since 2015, we have trained over 1600 directly impacted leaders in 45 states, including Washington, DC. Many of them are directly involved in juvenile justice work. We will continue to assist and uplift them in their reform efforts in various ways.

Lastly, a “just for fun” question - what do you like to do in your spare time?

After eating prison food for 27 years, I am a true foodie! I love to cook, and I love to eat! My work requires me to travel a lot, so I have eaten at a lot of restaurants all over the world. I ate at so many restaurants that back in 2016 or so, I started writing reviews for TripAdvisor. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had 200,000 followers on TripAdvisor! My other spare time fun is cars! Years ago, I used to build and drag race cars. I am still an excellent mechanic, so I work on my vehicles and even fix cars for a few customers in my spare time. My brother and I own and operate a small auto mechanic shop in Flint, Michigan.

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