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Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration will look at incarceration issues

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Mass incarceration and its disproportionate effect on communities of color in the United States will be an underlying theme of Bethel College’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

There will be a screening of the 2007 documentary In Prison My Whole Life, which looks at the U.S. criminal justice system through the story of the imprisonment and trial of political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Michelle Armster, Wichita, transitional executive director of Mennonite Central Committee-Central States in North Newton, will be the keynote speaker Monday, Jan. 18, on “The New Jane Crow.”

Both events take place at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center at Bethel College. Both are free and open to the public. A freewill offering will be taken at Monday’s program to benefit the Newton Community for Racial Justice group.

The title In Prison My Whole Life comes from the fact that film co-writer William Francome was born Dec. 9, 1981, the same day that Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the death of a police officer.

Abu-Jamal is still in prison, although his death sentence was overturned in 2001 because of technical errors made in his original 1982 sentencing hearing. The film investigates America’s civil rights history and its justice system through Abu-Jamal’s court case.

Following the screening of the film, Jerrell Williams, director of prison ministries for Offender-Victim Ministries in Newton, will lead a time of open discussion.

This program is part of the “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle” film series, with local partners Kauffman Museum, the Bethel College Library, Mennonite Library and Archives, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and Newton Public Library. “Created Equal” is part of the Bridging Cultures initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Michelle Armster, the keynote speaker for Monday’s program, is a trainer with years of experience in conflict transformation and restorative justice with churches, agencies and communities. She has done extensive study and work in mediation, facilitation, conciliation, restorative justice, arbitration, victim/offender mediation, anti-racism and alternatives to violence.

She graduated with a B.A. in speech and theater arts from Sterling (Kansas) College and holds a graduate certificate in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

After earning her Master of Divinity degree from Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary, Armster pastored at St. Andrew United Church of Christ and then was associate pastor at Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, both in Lancaster.

Armster worked 12 years for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. in Akron, Pennsylvania, focusing on peace and justice issues and conciliation, including 4½ years as co-director of MCC’s Office on Justice and Peacebuilding. She is a core trainer for Roots of Justice, a program with historical ties to MCC U.S.’s anti-racism work. She became transitional executive director of MCC Central States in 2013.

For more information on the special events on campus Jan. 17–18, contact Bethel Multicultural Student Union adviser Jean Butts at 316-284-5338.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015'16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2015'16. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.