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Bard Prison Initiative Holds 18th Commencement Ceremony at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, Saturday, January 19

Civil Rights Leader Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II Delivers Commencement Address and Receives Honorary Degree

Mark Primoff
Rev. Dr. William Barber II. Photo by Karen Pearson.
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) celebrated its 18th commencement Saturday, January 19, at Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York. Bard College awarded associate in arts and bachelor of arts degrees to nearly 60 students—with majors in mathematics, literature and the humanities, and social studies—bringing the total number of Bard degrees awarded to BPI students to more than 500. Civil rights leader Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church and president of Repairers of the Breach, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. In his address, Barber told graduates that “a disappointment and dark yesterday is not the end,” and exhorted them to assume the mantle of civic leadership in confronting poverty and injustice.

BPI Executive Director Max Kenner ’01 said that Barber’s decision to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with BPI graduates and their families “highlights mass incarceration and educational inequity as two of the most important—and intertwined—civil rights issues of our time.”

BPI alumnus and Yale Divinity School graduate Rev. George Chochos ’10 returned to Eastern, where he began his college studies, to deliver the invocation and benediction. “My path from jail to Yale can be each of yours,” he encouraged. Today, Chochos is assistant director of the Georgetown Pivot Program at Georgetown University.

Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative has provided college opportunity inside the prisons of New York State. Begun as a pilot program with 15 students, BPI now enrolls 300 men and women inside three maximum-security prisons—Coxsackie, Eastern New York, and Green Haven—and three medium-security prisons—Fishkill, Taconic, and Woodbourne. Bard College is also home to the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, through which BPI collaborates with colleges and universities to catalyze, launch, and sustain college-in-prison programs across the country. BPI’s success is a tribute to an extraordinary partnership among the College, students, and government of the State of New York. For more information, visit

Considered the preeminent civil rights leader of our time, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina; president and founder of Repairers of the Breach, a national leadership development organization; cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; bishop with the College of Affirming Bishops and Faith Leaders; and distinguished visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. He served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, the largest state conference in the South, from 2006 to 2017 and currently sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors.

After 20 years of pastoral work, Barber rose to national prominence in 2013, when the North Carolina state legislature embarked on an ambitious effort to restrict voting rights. Barber led a modest contingent of clergy and community advocates to the state capitol: blocking entrance to the chamber, reciting passages from the Bible, and subsequently being led away in handcuffs. Each subsequent week, more and more protesters came to the capitol and to similar events, first across the state and then the region, culminating in what is now known as the Moral Monday movement, a campaign organized by Repairers of the Breach. In 2017, Barber and colleagues launched a revival of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

Barber received a BA (1985) from North Carolina Central University, an MDiv (1989) from Duke University, and a DMin (2003) from Drew University. He is coauthor of the books Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation (2014), The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement (2016), and Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing (2018), and he is a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. A recipient of many prestigious awards, Barber was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2018. He was in custody when he received the call—arrested while demonstrating for a living wage.

Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City. With the addition of the Montgomery Place estate, Bard’s campus consists of nearly 1,000 parklike acres in the Hudson River Valley. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with majors in nearly 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 11 programs; nine early colleges; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on its 158-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College has expanded its mission as a private institution acting in the public interest across the country and around the world to meet broader student needs and increase access to liberal arts education. The undergraduate program at our main campus in upstate New York has a reputation for scholarly excellence, a focus on the arts, and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. For more information about Bard College, visit
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This event was last updated on 01-23-2019