When Bill Babbitt and I committed to going to Africa, things began to fall in place very quickly.
So first of all I would like to tell you a little bit about Bill Babbitt.
Bill Babbitt supported the death penalty until it came knocking on his door. Bill Babbitt turned his brother Manny over to the authorities when he realized his brother was involved in a violent crime. Instead of Manny getting the mental health treatment he needed the State of California executed him. Bill Babbitt watched his brother die in the San Quentin death house. Bill feels like he has Manny’s blood on his hands. Many have seen the picture of their mother Josephine at the execution vigil. That photo was on the cover of Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories, a book written by Rachel King who was a friend of ours.
Bill joined us for his first Journey in Texas in 2005 and brought his niece, Manny’s daughter Desiree. In 2008 Bill committed to joining us on the Montana Journey of Hope. He received a phone call from someone inviting him to Jamaica for a speaking tour taking place at the same time as the Montana Journey. Bill had always wanted to go to Jamaica, but because he wanted to keep his word to me, he declined their offer.
The main reason Bill wanted to come on the Montana Journey in the first place was that David Kaczynski was also going to be on it. David gained international attention when he turned his brother in after realizing that his brother Ted could have been the Unabomber. Instead of getting the mental health treatment Ted needed the government decided to seek death. Ted ended up with a life without the possibility of Parole (LWOP). David befriended Bill and campaigned with Bill unsuccessfully to try and get Manny’s death sentenced overturned.
Bill and David became good friends and as a team of speakers they are the best. We have always referred to them as the Journey’s A Team. They were also together on several Texas Journeys and this past year in Indiana.
In 2011 my good friend Dirk Sisson said he would send me to Uganda with his frequent flyer miles when he found out Edward Mpagi had invited the Journey to help him in his lonely battle against the death penalty. In turn, the first person I called was Bill Babbitt and asked him to join me in Uganda by using frequent flyer miles I had accumulated during my travels.
We met Edward’s friend Ronald Katongole in Uganda. Edward had suffered a stroke a few weeks before we arrived but did not tell us for fear we would not come. Edward knew that Ronald would take great care of us as host and he did.
Ronald is a wonderful young man. On this Journey Ronald will be our host, chief organizer and friend. The Journey of Hope has a special relationship with Ronald. We were able to bring him to Indiana last year to help Edward, who was sent to join us by the World Coalition to Against the Death Penalty at our request.
The 2011 African Journey also went to Rwanda and Kenya.
The trip to Africa changed Bill Babbitt’s life. Bill is a Christian man with a strong faith in God. He feels God’s hand is leading him back to Africa. Many in Africa call him Babu, a sign of honor.
Babu feels that Uganda is very close to abolishing the death penalty. It is on the books, but it is de facto, because they have not used it since 1999. Bill feels like with a little nudge from the Journey that the death penalty in Uganda can be abolished.
Babu is going to Africa with the message of love and compassion for all of humanity. The death penalty is inhumane and if anyone is an eye witness to that fact it is Bill Babbitt.
Bill told me that since I took him to Africa the first time he would raise money and/or use his credit card to pay for the two of us to go. How could I say no? That is what I call an open door. With Bill and I committed to going, I knew we would have to make it another Journey of Hope. We both knew there would be something special about this Journey.
I told him I would raise and/or use my credit to bring Randy Gardner to Africa. Randy went in 2011 and it was a life changing experience for him too. Bill was 100% in agreement that it would be great to have Randy go again.
Randy and Bill have several things in common. Randy’s brother was also executed. Both executions drew wide media attention. Manny had been a hero in the Vietnam War and Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was shot through the heart by a Firing Squad in the State of Utah.
A few days later after talking per chance with my friend Curtis McCarty, I told Babu that I would do the same for Curtis as I had pledged for Randy. Curtis is a death row exoneree like Edward. Curtis and Randy have powerful stories that give great witness the need for abolition.
I knew we had a great core of four to start the Journey with. In my next blog post I will share more about Randy and Curtis and how their powerful stories are an important part of the message we are taking to Africa.
I know we all have each other’s back. That is such a blessing.
In following blogs I will be sharing who the other team members and why they were chosen. We will all complement each other on team Africa.