Jonathan Rapping, president and founder of Gideon's Promise (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Jonathan Rapping, president and founder of Gideon’s Promise (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

Gideon’s Promise, the national public defender advocacy organization, will move its summer training program from the University of Mississippi to Morehouse College in Atlanta, starting July 27, the group announced Wednesday.

“We are very excited for Morehouse College to host our 2018 Summer Training Institute,” Gideon’s Promise founder and president Jonathan Rapping said in a news release. “The institution’s inspired legacy in the battle for civil rights dovetails nicely with our organization’s work to strengthen public defenders in this country. I strongly believe that criminal justice is this generation’s civil and human rights struggle, and empowered public defenders are essential to transforming the culture of public defense in America.”

The luminaries of the civil rights movement educated at Morehouse include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and Georgia Court of Appeals Senior Judge Herbert Phipps.

Ole Miss served as a “phenomenal” host for the training program the past three summers, “but, as attendance increased, lodging and accessibility for the national staff and participants became an issue,” said marketing consultant Karen Stewart, noting that the closest airport for Oxford is in Memphis.

The 2018 Summer Training Institute will open with a three-day session from July 27-29 at the Shirley Massey Executive Conference Center at Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive, S.W., Atlanta, Stewart said.

The weekend of programs and activities will serve as Gideon’s Promise’s biennial gathering to provide training, leadership development and mentoring to public defenders from across the county, Stewart said.

The Summer Training Institute was developed to support public defenders at various career levels. New lawyers, supervisors, chief defenders, trainers and law students considering careers in public defense will learn strategies and tactics to improve delivery of public defense services in their areas and decrease burnout and high turnover rates common in the profession.

The Gideon’s Promise curriculum will be taught by a faculty of seasoned attorneys from the organization’s national roster of partner public defender offices and law schools. Guest speakers and a barbecue will round out the weekend.

The relocation was executed with the help of the school’s Office of the President and director of Moot Court and instructor Winfield Ward Murray, Stewart said. Additionally, 10 pre-law students from Morehouse and neighboring Spelman College will receive internships to assist in the management of the Summer Training Institute and participate in the programming and networking taking place on campus.

After the initial weekend, the training program will move to the Post-Office Cowork, a space-sharing facility near Underground Atlanta. The training will conclude on Aug. 11.

Rapping previously worked for 10 years as a public defender in Washington, D.C., before moving to Atlanta to help to reform public defense systems in Georgia and Louisiana. He founded Gideon’s Promise in 2007 as a nonprofit organization to provide training, leadership development and mentorship to improve legal defense for the clients and communities they serve. He started with a single training program for 16 attorneys in two public defender offices in Georgia and Louisiana.

The group now serves 1,000 participants in 40 public defender offices across 27 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization’s initial three-year program for new public defenders has expanded into a comprehensive program model that supports public defenders at all levels, Stewart said.

Gideon’s Promise’s executive director, Ilham Askia, is a former educator whose work is informed by personal experiences with poorly trained public defenders, one of which resulted in a 10-year prison sentence for her father, Stewart said.

The organization’s name is taken from the 1963 landmark case Gideon vs. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that every person accused of a crime in America must be provided a lawyer, regardless of their economic status.