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‘The House I Live In’ and a John Legend-ary Performance

For some lucky ticket holders, inauguration weekend kicked off Saturday with a screening of Eugene Jarecki’s provocative documentary about America’s war on drugs, “The House I Live In,” at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood.

The documentary offers a scathing critique of America’s criminal justice system and was co-produced by Danny Glover, Brad Pitt, Russell Simmons and John Legend.

“The drug war and its extraordinary injustice to human beings in this country, people of color, poor people, not only must end, but it must now be at the top of the to-do list here in Washington,” Jarecki said.

After the screening, which was simulcast to hundreds of congregations across the country, Legend took the stage to perform his cover of Paul Robeson’s original song “The House I Live In,” which Jarecki named the film after.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion with Glover, Jarecki, Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., and Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, longtime mentor and friend to President Barack Obama.

“If there’s going to be a war, the war should be to get people healthy, to get them back to work, to get them in school, to get them in college, to get them jobs,” Ogletree said.

“We miss every opportunity we can imagine to get young people on the right track and keep them on the right track. Then we wait for them to drop out of school, join a gang, get caught — and then we wonder why we’re locking up so many people and wasting so much money,” Scott said.

Despite the presence of celebrity guests such as Glover and Legend, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., turned into an unlikely star of the show, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd and staying on to pose for what seemed like hundreds of photographs with supporters, while this HOH reporter waited patiently in the wings.

Finally HOH caught up with Waters, who had a word of advice for anyone passionate about reforming the criminal justice system.

“With the Internet and social media now, we can do a much better job of involving people who can put pressure on the legislators and the public policy process,” she said.

Bloggers in particular, Waters said, can talk the issue up. “I think we can trend on these blogs on this issue because it has impacted so many people.”

As she was leaving, Waters also heaped praise on Legend.

“John Legend is a wonderful young man with a conscience. Not only is he talented, but he really does care and he keeps up with what goes on in public policy and politics, and I have been one of his fans for a long time — and so is my husband,” she said.

Waters’ husband, former Ambassador to the Bahamas Sidney Williams, also attended the screening.

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