Black History Month Speaker Series: Messiah Johnson and Deirdre Enright

Gonzaga wrapped up its month-long Black History Month Speaker Series with a talk on Tuesday, February 25 by Messiah Johnson and Deirdre Enright.

In 1998, Messiah Johnson was wrongfully convicted of an armed robbery at a Norfolk beauty salon and sentenced to 132 years in prison. After spending over 20 years in prison, Mr. Johnson was pardoned in 2018 with the help of lawyer Deirdre Enright, the director of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law .

The pair was introduced by Gonzaga freshman Dalton Enright '23, Deirdre Enright’s nephew. Dalton told the students how he heard Messiah speak when he was younger, and became pen pals with him while he was in prison. “We became friends,” said Dalton. “Now, five years later, I can’t believe he is standing here a free man. I’m so glad he and Deirdre are here to talk about the case and what we, as Gonzaga men, can do to make sure a horrible event like this can never happen again.”

Mr. Johnson spoke to the students about what happened to him the night he was arrested, during his trial, his time in prison, the long and arduous appeal process, and finally returning home. He and Ms. Enright, who is a graduate of Georgetown Visitation, also took questions from the students about everything from the emotional impact of spending years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit to the broken criminal justice system that allows mistakes like this to happen.

At the end of the talk, Mr. Johnson implored the students to be active and engaged citizens, both now and as they enter adulthood. “All I ask is that you be conscious and aware of the laws in your own community,” Mr. Johnson said. “And that you be proactive in striving to make laws that benefit and are fair to you and everyone in your community.”
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