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Commencement 2019

Prison Justice and Reform Advocate, Alumnus Shares His Story With Seniors

Watch Video Brian Ferguson at Senior Convocation

May 3, 2019 – Senior Convocation speaker Brian Ferguson (C’18), once wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for more than a decade, will talk about his time at Georgetown and his preparations for studying at University of Oxford.

Ferguson enrolled at Georgetown after fighting an 11-year battle that led to his exoneration and an end to a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.

Though his life as an undergraduate political science major and Division I soccer player at the University of West Virginia was interrupted in 2002 by the conviction, the native Washingtonian went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in government from Georgetown last year while working full time as the director of DC’s Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs’ (MORCA).

‘Amazing Foundation’

“We leave the university with this amazing foundation, but there are going to be challenges along the way,” says Ferguson, who will deliver a keynote address at the May 16 convocation. “It’s really about how you deal with those challenges, using them as building blocks and stepping stones as opposed to weights and barriers.”

This fall, the Georgetown alumnus will pursue a master’s degree in comparative social policy at Oxford with a Marshall Scholarship.

While attending Georgetown, Ferguson developed Start Line, a nonprofit venture that allows formerly incarcerated individuals to identify, locate and rate critical housing, employment and other social service resources.

Georgetown Responsibilities

He was awarded a prestigious fellowship in the Halcyon Incubator for his creation of the mobile app, which has been featured in numerous publications, TV, podcasts and radio shows.

Ferguson says it’s an honor to come back to Georgetown to share the stage with two student speakers, Amanda Scott (C’19) and Shakera Vaughan (C’19).

“I am looking forward to talking to the graduating senior class about the kinds of responsibilities that come with being a Georgetown graduate,” he says.

The Georgetown alumnus’ advocacy and commitment to social and racial justice through prison reform and support for returning citizens is closely aligned with Georgetown’s work.

“Creating new and innovative programs and opportunities for previously incarcerated people is something that I consider a distinct honor to be able to do for a living,” Ferguson says. “Dostoevsky said societies could be most fairly judged by how they treat their prisoners. The idea being that those who have the least and are otherwise deemed as without value are often the most in need of assistance.”

Prisons and Justice

Last year, the university launched the Pivot Program, which aims to prepare returning citizens in DC for positions as both entrepreneurial leaders and productive employees.

The program is a collaboration among the university’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI), Georgetown College and the McDonough School of Business with support from Ferguson’s office, the DC Department of Employment Services and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.

PJI director Marc Howard, professor of government at Georgetown, served as a mentor and advisor to Ferguson during his studies, and they now work together as DC community partners through Pivot and other programs.

Remarkable and Inspiring

“Brian Ferguson embodies everything that Georgetown is and aspires to be,” Howard says. “He has dedicated his life to pursuing knowledge, challenging injustice and helping others. I’m thrilled to see him share his remarkable and inspiring story with the Georgetown community at Senior Convocation.”

Earlier this year, MORCA and Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies graduated nine returning citizens as paralegals to work at local law firms.

“I have worked closely with many agencies, corporations and institutions on these issues, but I have had no greater partner than Georgetown,” Ferguson says. “From the top down, Georgetown’s investment into the city and into creating so many opportunities for returning citizens has made me even more honored to be an alumnus.”

In March he participated in a panel discussion on the power of education behind bars that featured award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns.

Ferguson says he’s looking forward to studying at Oxford.

“I really want to continue working with social and public policies, especially as it relates to the criminal justice system and racial equity,” he says.