DPA Elects Former NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett & Criminal Justice Reform Advocate Kemba Smith to its Board of Directors

Press Release January 25, 2021
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

New York, NY – Today, the Drug Policy Alliance announced the appointment of former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett and criminal justice reform advocate and author Kemba Smith to its board of directors, where they will both serve three-year terms.
Both have a long history of advancing drug policy, racial justice, criminal justice reform, human rights and health equity efforts.
“We are excited to have Mary and Kemba – who have both already contributed in so many ways to the drug policy reform movement – join the DPA Board, where their expertise and insights will undoubtedly strengthen our mission and create new momentum for the work ahead,” said Derek Hodel, DPA Board President.
With more than 30 years of experience in public health, Mary has dedicated her career to advancing health equity. She is the Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and the FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Prior to joining the FXB Center, Dr. Bassett served as New York City’s Commissioner of Health from 2014 to 2018.
“As a doctor in Harlem in the 1980s and later as health commissioner of New York City, I saw first-hand the devastation caused by the racist criminalization of drug use,” said Bassett. “The Drug Policy Alliance has been doing fantastic work to end the war on drugs, and I am proud to join their efforts as a member of the Board.”
Kemba is a well-known advocate for criminal justice reform, the author of Poster Child, and the founder of the Kemba Smith Foundation. Over the last 20 years, Kemba has lobbied senior officials at The White House, the United Nations, and the U.S. Congress. In 2019, she was appointed to the Virginia Parole Board and she continues to serve on the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. She has also led trainings for federal and state probation organizations across the country and has received numerous awards. Kemba’s advocacy stems from her own experience of being given a 24 and a half year mandatory minimum sentence–when she was seven months pregnant and having no prior criminal record–in federal prison for conspiracy to participate in her boyfriend’s drug activities.  After drawing support from around the nation, her sentence was commuted by President Clinton in December 2000, after she had served six and a half years. 
“It is truly humbling that on the 20th anniversary of being released from prison, I have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors of an organization that has long been dear to my heart—as someone who has experienced first-hand the injustices they fight against on a daily basis,” said Smith. “At the time of my release, there was no formerly incarcerated community, but now, all across this nation, our voices are leading movements and we are occupying seats at executive decision-making tables. I am excited to lend my voice and support to DPA in this capacity as they forge ahead in this fight for sensible, compassionate and inclusive drug policy reform.”
High-res images available for both upon request by contacting [email protected].

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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