News 10.14.22

Innocence Project Wins Clarence B. Jones Impact Award for Digital Advocacy Campaign to Stop Pervis Payne’s Execution

The award recognizes innovative and impactful communications efforts that have helped drive social change.  

By Innocence Staff

Supporters at the #FreePervisPayne rally in New York's Union Square on Sept. 8, 2021. (Image: Elijah Craig II/Innocence Project)

The Innocence Project has been named the fifth winner of the Clarence B. Jones Impact Award, an honor from The Communications Network that recognizes and celebrates the impact of transformative communications campaigns in the social sector. Innocence Project Digital Engagement Director Alicia Maule and Pervis Payne’s sister and lead advocate Rolanda Holman accepted the award in Seattle on Friday, Oct. 14 and delivered a keynote presentation at the annual Communications Network conference. The effort would not have been possible without the incredible communications leadership of Laura Burstein and the Capital Litigation Communications Project. 

The Innocence Project joins Truth Initiative, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and A Step Ahead Chattanooga as award recipients for its extraordinary digital advocacy and grassroots campaign that led to a stay of execution for Pervis Payne and his removal from death row in Tennessee in November 2021.

Mr. Payne, a Black man who lives with an intellectual disability, has maintained his innocence for more than 34 years. He was convicted of the murder of a white woman and her daughter in 1987 in a racially charged trial despite having no previous police record nor evidence of drug use, the latter of which the prosecution had alleged.

Watch Innocence Project deliver the keynote

Alicia Maule and Rolanda Holman deliver keynote on Pervis Payne's campaign at Comnet Conference

Working together with Mr Payne’s legal team, the communications professionals at the Capital Litigation Communications Project, policy advocates, community activists, and more, the IP team set out to create a robust, multi-faceted approach to digital engagement and communications. 

Pervis Payne hugs his attorney, federal defender Kelley Henry, after a judge formally removed him from death row. (Image: Laramie Renae/ Innocence Project)

As the campaign gained traction, user-generated and Innocence Project-generated content using #PervisPayne and #JusticeforPervisPayne garnered more than 45 million views on TikTok. Over 750,000 advocates joined the campaign and took more than 45,000 actions to reach lawmakers. What’s more, the Innocence Project’s work and the communications campaign overall helped positively shape conversations about people living with intellectual disabilities, and allowed people to see Mr. Payne’s humanity in a way that had been denied for 34 years. It also drew attention to the deep racial disparities that exist in our criminal legal system and the shocking reality of wrongful convictions. The targeted audience for the campaign included activists, advocates, and influencers who were encouraged to contact Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, legislators, and District Attorney Amy Weirich to stop Mr. Payne’s execution and commute his sentence or vacate his conviction. 

Working on Pervis Payne’s campaign with the Innocence Project, his family, and our many partners has been a great privilege and opportunity to prove that the power of community is boundless,” said Ms. Maule. “I’m honored to accept this award on behalf of our team at the Innocence Project, our coalition partners, and the millions of people who fought for Mr. Payne. We won’t stop fighting for him until he is reunited with his family and up on this stage with us.” 

The 2022 Clarence B Jones Impact Award, named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s speechwriter and voted on by the board and membership of The Communications Network, recognizes innovative and impactful communications efforts that have helped drive social change.  

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