Office of University Communications & Marketing

UNA Professor Works to Advance Project Say Something

Jun. 23, 2016

Taylor Goodwin, University Communications

FLORENCE, Ala. – According to their website, Project Say Something is a nonprofit organization new to the Shoals with a mission to unify, educate, heal and empower communities in the mid-south to realize social justice through non-violent communication and direct action against racism, poverty and related forms of oppression.

“They ask faculty from time to time to serve on their discussion panels,” said Dr. Katie Owens-Murphy, University of North Alabama professor. “I, along with my colleagues Matt Duques and Pete Williams, serve on the board and help lead discussions. We are trying to get people to talk about race because it’s difficult to talk about, to learn about race because it’s something that a lot of us are not very well educated about; and then to create community programming that appeals to people of all backgrounds here in the Shoals,” she said.

As a board member, Owens-Murphy is responsible for education and programming within the organization, which was founded by Shoals native Camille Bennett along with her husband, Taurus.  “And something that we’ve been really interested in in Alabama lately has been prison reform,” she said.

Owens-Murphy is currently teaching a summer course that focuses on literature written by prisoners. She said some of these writers go on to have great literary careers, but some of them end up right back in the system, even successful authors such as Etheridge Knight and Jack Henry Abbott. And for Owens-Murphy that poses two questions: what is it that causes them to end up back there and what tools could we be providing people so that they can become citizens again?

Project Say Something is collaborating with the award-winning documentary series POV to screen Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway's documentary "The Return," which debuted on PBS May 23, 2016. Owens-Murphy will be conducting the screening and leading a Q&A Tuesday, July 12, at 6 p.m., in the Florence Lauderdale Public Library’s Conference Room.

The film follows three former felons as they make the rocky transition from prison life back to the civilian world. It also centers on California’s Three Strikes Law and the impact that it has had on prisoners, families, lawmakers and American society.

“A lot of the time we have these real boogeyman ideas about who ex-felons are, and I hope that this will allow people to gain a different perspective,” she said. “Something I’d really like to do is give people some direction. We need real initiatives that people can get behind in small ways that will slowly work to make this social injustice better.”

One of these concrete initiatives will soon be available in Florence in the form of a programming model for at-risk youth that will be available in day care centers, after-school and summer programs across Florence. Owens-Murphy said the program, called “Compass,” which is set to launch in a new location this fall, is an enrichment program targeting children ages 2 to 12 who may be disadvantaged due to poverty and lack of resources.

“This is our way of trying to supplement what may not be available to them at school or at home,” Owens-Murphy said. “We want to enrich their lives by giving them creative activities they can get involved in and become passionate about, including yoga, art, gardening, music and cultural awareness. We’re trying to pique their intellectual curiosity, keep them busy, make them feel good about themselves and give them a sense of confidence and creativity.”

Focus Scope Daycare will host an open house August 4, to create community awareness. They are also in the process of conducting donation drives for the prospective children in attendance. “It’s a pretty affordable rate,” Owens-Murphy said, “but unfortunately, some still won’t be able to bear the financial burden.” Because of that the organization will work to raise funds that will create vouchers for those in need.

“The goal is to work on both ends of the school-to-prison pipeline, to put together programs for at-risk youth as well as to gather resources for those who are exiting the system,” said Owens-Murphy. “Hopefully by impacting both ends we can make a tangible difference.”

The screening and the open house for Project Say Something will be open to the community.

For more information on Project Say Something:



The University of North Alabama is an accredited, comprehensive regional state university offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs through the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Human Sciences, and Nursing. Occupying a 130-acre campus in a residential section of Florence, Alabama, UNA is located within a four-city area that also includes Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals. UNA also operates a renowned collegiate athletic program in NCAA Division II's Gulf South Conference.  The University of North Alabama is an equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate in the admission policy on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, age or national origin.