"On the eve of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, lawmakers, politicos, academics and artists sat down for something different: a frank and wide-ranging discussion on civil rights and the criminal justice system. Guests packed Washington's Long View Gallery for 'An Evening with John Legend,' hosted by POLITICO and co-moderated by Mike Allen ... and Malika Saada Sar, the executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls.
"Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder attended [on his last day in office, drawing repeated applause], along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and others.
"Panelists acknowledged the seminal moment in the country's history given the events of the past year, including the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. 'We could be, if we do this well, and collectively, on the cusp of change,' said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, noting that criminal justice system reform is an 'enormous priority' for President Obama's final two years in office.
"Legend praised bipartisan progress but said there is much more to be done. ... 'You can't cost-cut your way to better schools and pre-K for our kids and better counseling in the schools,' said the award-winning musician, who last week launched his Free America Campaign, which calls for the end of mass incarceration. ... 'As soon as [kids] slip through the cracks,' Legend said, all compassion 'melts away, and we turn them into villains, we lock them up for a long time." ...
"Bryan Stevenson , who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, said the country cannot make progress unless it confronts a narrative of 'anger and fear' ... Michelle Alexander, author of 'The New Jim Crow,' said that 'many of the old forms of discrimination of the Jim Crow era are legal again once you're labeled a felon.' ...
"Following the panel, Legend [sat down at an onstage piano, pulled up a microphone and] serenaded the crowd with Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song,' along with his own hits 'Ordinary People' and 'All of Me.'"