By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has announced the election of its new Board Chair, former Oklahoma State Senator and candidate for Oklahoma Democratic Party Vice Chair, Constance “Connie” Johnson. Also newly elected is OK-CADP Vice Chair Samuel Jennings, a member of the Oklahoma State University History Department in Stillwater.
“We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are overjoyed at the election of our new Chair-person, Senator Connie Johnson,” said Adam Leathers, OK-CADP spokesperson. “We are grateful for everything that our exiting Chair-person, Marilynn Knott, has done for our cause and are pleased she will still be a part of our coalition.
“We welcome Senator Johnson and believe she will be a superb leader,” Leathers added. “She has the gifts, passion, and experience to lead the coalition in the fight against our state-sponsored murder and by God’s grace and her leadership, we believe we will make a real difference.”
Johnson recently retired after 33-years in the State Senate, representing Oklahoma City’s predominantly African American “Eastside,” where she pursued a game changing focus on health/mental health/human services issues that disproportionately affect the economic and social well-being of the poor, minorities, women, children, and people with disabilities.
The first woman and Black in Oklahoma’s history to win a major party’s US Senate nomination in 2014, Johnson contends her aggressive proposals on sentencing reform and abolishing the death penalty are beginning to gain traction in Oklahoma’s conservative climate.
Johnson’s advocacy grew out of her Master’s Thesis on Women and Incarceration in Oklahoma, which is reflective of the high cost and impact on the state’s budget.
While in the Senate, Johnson served on full Senate Appropriations, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, and was the ranking Democratic member of the Health and Human Services Committee. She also served on Public Safety, Veterans, Energy, Finance, and Rules standing committees.
Johnson was the 2014 Oklahoma Democratic Party Veteran’s Committee “Legislator of the Year,” and presently chairs the ODP State Affirmative Action Committee. She was the 2013 recipient of the OK-CADP Phil Wahl Abolitionist of the Year Award.
Johnson is a native Oklahoman, mother of three and grandmother to Savannah and Rhyan.
A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Johnson has a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Langston University in Langston, OK.
“I am privileged to serve as the 2015-2016 chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish The Death Penalty, for such a time as this in Oklahoma’s history,” Johnson said.
“Our Board’s first action of the year was unanimously agreeing to pursue a statewide aggressive education and awareness campaign, including reinvigorating and holding accountable our member organizations to join in acting, and establishing chapters throughout the state, as we work to defeat an upcoming state question.”
“This is an exciting time in Oklahoma; when everything we’ve advocated will become front and center,” Johnson added. “I am both honored and excited about the opportunity to be a part of the movement and to continue to use my voice to bring about solutions for all people.”
Jennings’ work at OSU focuses on the Catholic Church’s challenges in responding to modern life. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, Angela, who works as an immigration attorney for Catholic Charities. Together they have three children: Robert, Grayson, and Joseph.
“Serving as the Vice-Chair of the OCADP is a great honor and a sizeable responsibility,” Jennings said. “I look eagerly to working with this wonderful community of abolitionists in ridding Oklahoma of Capital Punishment.”
Jennings has been an active participant in local politics since college and is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Other officers of the 2015-2016 OK-CADP Board include Secretary, Susan Bishop, a member of the Social Justice Committee of Oklahoma City’s First Unitarian Church; and Treasurer, Mary E. Sine, an educator at Oklahoma City Public Schools.
OK-CADP is a grassroots membership organization working to end the death penalty in Oklahoma. It engages in outreach, education, and advocacy aimed at raising awareness of issues related to the death penalty.
For more information, visit okcadp.org.