By Rhoda Feng
Desmond Meade, a formerly homeless returning citizen, overcame many life challenges that led him to where he is today: president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) in Orlando, Fla.
When Meade returned to society, he not only graduated summa cum laude from Miami-Dade College in 2010, but he put himself through law school at the Florida International University College of Law. His education and experience led him to what would become his life’s work: ending the disenfranchisement of and discrimination against people convicted of felonies.
Meade will receive Public Citizen’s Golden Boot Award at our 2019 Gala being held June 19 in Washington, D.C. (more information below). Meade’s work is one facet of what progressives nationwide are doing today to win tomorrow’s battles and become a decisive political force: integrating our causes, organizing social justice movements and strengthening our electoral voices.
Meade rose from being the unpaid head of the FRRC in 2011 to president of the organization as well as chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, anchoring one leg of a broader push in Florida for criminal justice reform, which is aimed at giving more former felons the vote. At the FRRC, Meade orchestrated the reorganization and incorporation of a coalition composed of more than 70 state and national organizations and individuals, including the NAACP, ACLU, the PICO National Network, Florida League of Women Voters, A. Philip Randolph Institute, PICO Florida and Florida Immigrant Coalition. In 2014, he was a part of a delegation to the United Nations, where he gave testimony regarding disenfranchisement in Florida. That same year, he arranged a historic meeting at the White House between returning citizens and President Barack Obama’s administration. Meade traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak on behalf of convicted felons in Florida who were seeking to regain their civil rights upon the completion of their sentences.
In 2018, Meade led the FRRC to a monumental victory with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative that restored voting rights to more than 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century and brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida. Meade is leading efforts to empower and re-engage local communities across the state, and to reshape local, state and national criminal justice policies.
Along with other progressives, the FRRC has laid the groundwork for political renewal. For his heroic organizing efforts, Meade was named one of this year’s TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”
In a time of stark inequities of race and place, Meade demonstrates that democracy can make a difference. Public Citizen is pleased to honor at our upcoming gala all that Meade has accomplished.