As a community activist, Merelyn Bates-Mims, center in red cap, last week joined Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson at the closed Kroger store in Walnut Hills in a protest of the closing of Kroger stores in minority neighborhoods. Photo by Dan Yount
By Herald Staff
The Cincinnati City Council recognized human rights and social justice advocate and educator Merelyn B. Bates-Mims, Ph.D., of Cincinnati, with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month honors on March 14.
Each year, Councilman Chris Seelbach and Cincinnati City Council recognize women from across the community who are making history today through their work advocating for rights, progress and inclusion across our community.
“We are recognizing and honoring Dr. Merelyn B. Bates-Mims, a Fulbright scholar, for her achievements and significant contributions to education, public service and social justice during Women’s History Month, which includes International Women’s Day,’’ Seelbach said.
According to information Seelbach provided about Bates-Mims during the presentation, she obtained her bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts from the University of Louisiana in her home state, but has lived most of her adult life in Cincinnati, where she obtained a master of education degree from Xavier University and her doctorate (with distinction) from the University of Cincinnati in interdisciplinary studies (administration, linguistics and French).
IN 1984, she was awarded a Fulbright, for research in comparative-historical Pidgin-Creole languages and linguistics at Yaoundé University, Republic of Cameroon, and three other universities in West Africa.
In 1986, Bates-Mims became the founding director of Xavier University’s College Opportunity Program, a partnership between Xavier and Cincinnati Public Schools, which was featured on CBS News’ Sunday Morning with host Charles Kuralt.
She has been an educator at Princeton City Schools.
She served as chief administrator of the Equal Opportunity Program of Ohio and as a consultant mediator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Bates-Mims was founding chair of the Coalition on Human Rights’ Darfur Campaign at Christ Church Cathedral.
She was founding chair of the Coalition on Human Rights’ Darfur Campaign at Christ Church Cathedral.
She is founding chair of the Organization of Procedural Justice commissioned by the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, which works to reform sentencing guidelines that have subjected men, especially young African Americans, to excessive sentences for minor crimes in what is being referred to as a form of “modern day slavery.’’
She is the recipient of the King Legacy Award by the MLK Coalition and Freedom Center, the NAACP Ohio Conference Award for Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice, and she has been inducted into the Xavier University Sustainability Heroes Gallery.
In accepting the honors, Bates-Mims said, “New Iberia, Louisiana, is the name of the place where I was born—the home of Louisiana hot sauce and sugarcane fields.
“It was there I learned right from wrong. Who taught me? My grandmothers Cora and Bettie, and my mother, Luelva, who taught me how to read before I entered elementary school. We did not have books in our house. But we did have the printed language on Kellogg’s corn flakes boxes. Using the numbers of the wall calendar and my fingers, she taught me how to count. Poverty is not a signal of the absence of intellect.
“In college, I majored in music and earned a Bachelor of Arts in voice, because my Aunt Georgia, a woman of extraordinarily beautiful voice, taught me the hymns of the church. I remember being placed on a chair in the choir at Mt. Calvary Baptist so that the congregation could see me, at 5 years old, as I sang.
“And it was there, in New Iberia’s Back o’ the Field neighborhood, that I learned leadership from a former slave, my grandfather Papa Ed Bates, who advocated the building of a public school for colored children, with the men and women of the community responding to the call; his early advocacy thereby conveying messages on the responsibility of humans for the health, safety, and welfare of other humans. Later, during a year-long study in Cameroon and three other countries, I discovered there on Africa continent the same New Iberia universal practice of all adults sharing responsibility for the safety of all the children, other people’s children.
“That international, transcontinental tradition, traveling over time and space, appeared as a natural element among the faculty at Lincoln Heights High School and later the College Opportunity Program for Burton Elementary s graders that was offered by Xavier University.
“Now, and since the time of the tragedy of the child, Trayvon Martin, Christ Church Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio have commissioned a justice work whose mission is to remove the loophole language of Amendment XIII to the U.S. Constitution authorizing legal slavery past 1865; that reads, “Neither slavery nor indentured servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted …”
Bates-Mims has immersed herself in this work in recent years in her work with the Organization of Procedural Justice at the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.
“The statistics show that the modern lockup of our children, many sentenced at a young age to life-long imprisonment, is the ‘new age slavery,’ as described in Michelle Alexander’s best seller, The New Jim Crow; and Ava DuVernay’s film, The 13th, revealing how the nation is caught up in the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration—modern day prison slave-labor profiteering commerce made legal by the language of Section I of the 13th Amendment proclaiming that no slavery shall exist in the United States ‘…except as a punishment for crime.’
Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons, she said. Nearly 3,000 nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, many without legal representation. Fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as 8 have been prosecuted as adults
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) of Montgomery, Alabama, has stated the adult prosecution of any child under age 14 for any crime should be banned, she said, providing the following reasons: Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities, and they face increased risk of suicide. EJI believes confinement of children with adults in jails and prisons is indefensible, cruel and unusual, and it should be banned, she said.
Led by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, those who argued for the complete abolition of slavery in the United States lost their struggle, Bates-Mims said. The 13th Amendment as it was passed, and as it stands, forbids slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” Rather than legally abolishing slavery, the amendment changed the system to permit the state, not private citizens, to be slave owners. . . ” wrote the Rev. Murphy Davis in Prison Slavery. Southern Changes in 2000.
INTERESTINGLY, Ohio‘s Constitution in Article l,
Section 6 (1912) reads: “Slavery and involuntary servitude. There shall be no slavery in this state; nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crime.’’
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), in response to a letter from Bates-Mims wrote in February, “I am co-sponsor of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123). Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same communities generation after generation, I believe we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around. The ultimate goal of our criminal justice system is to make our families stronger and our communities safer. I am pleased that S.2123 includes two of my provisions that will promote successful reentry and provide additional tools to promote recovery and prevent drug and alcohol abuse.
“As the criminal justice reform debate moves forward, I will continue to push for the reauthorization of the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, which improves state and local grant programs to promote successful offender reentry and improve public safety, reduces Bureau of Prison costs and saves taxpayer dollars by improving federal reentry policy.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also wrote to Bates-Mims, saying he has supported several legislative efforts to ensure sentences are proportional to the conviction, which would give federal judges the flexibility to issue sentences below the required minimum in certain non-violent cases, and in efforts to reduce the number of low-level offenses that trigger mandatory minimums, strengthen drug addition rehabilitation and mental health services in the Bureau of Prisons, and expand avenues for expunging or sealing criminal records for juveniles convicted of non-violent offenses.
In the City Hall ceremony, Bates-Mims said, “I entreat you to join in a new emancipation movement to end legal slavery, once and for all.
“I am humbled and grateful for this honor. God bless all the children marching today for justice. God bless all the children of the world.’’