Training people to see things differently and believing no life is beyond redemption—that’s how the Georgia Justice Project creates new possibilities.
Using power for good—it’s the theme of Doug Ammar’s life. The 1984 Davidson alumnus has been a part of the Georgia Justice Project (GJP) in Atlanta since its inception in 1986, and since 1995, he has served as the organization’s executive director. The GJP provides legal services combined with social services and employment support for low-wealth people accused of a crime. The team also works hard on policy issues, primarily focused on re-entry and the impact of a criminal record.

“Justice shouldn’t be defined by how much money a person has,” said Ammar. “Nobody’s life is beyond redemption. No matter what you’ve done, it should not define the rest of your life.”

One client, April, wrote a letter from jail, where she was facing a very serious charge. Represented by the GJP team, she got a reduced charge, got all her kids back, went to college, earned a degree, got married and started a non-profit organization that works with women. And there are many similar stories to tell.

At the GJP, the offices are situated right behind the grave of Martin Luther King Jr., and Ammar says it inspires everyone as they do this work. He says our country is in a love affair with the prison system of the last 30 years, and the staff work hard to think differently about what’s possible.

“We train people at all levels and give them a chance to see things differently,” he said of his team, which includes two 2015 Davidson grads. “It’s important to see the people in the criminal justice system and think deeply about the process—what works and what doesn’t.”

A leader who is committed to serving others, Ammar says some people may have a hard time reconciling ambition with the notion of selflessness.

“People often assume service means cleaning up a playground or painting a house,” said Ammar. “Those things are great, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about the union of hearts, minds and souls and achieving aspirations together. I used to think of service as transactional instead of transformational, and there’s a huge opportunity to merge these worlds.”

In addition to the mentors and friends who made Ammar’s college experience special, he quite literally was led to the life he leads today because of Davidson. A classmate, Charles Wiley ’84, invited Ammar to Atlanta and introduced him to the folks who started the work of the GJP.

Davidson also left Ammar with a few key lessons that he applies to his daily work. During his time on campus, he learned that learning is fluid. Learning and having experiences in a silo was not the Davidson experience, so the atmosphere at GJP is one of collaboration and teamwork.

“It’s one of the beauties of what we do,” he said. “Our work transcends existing silos, and we don’t have to work very hard to be reminded why we’re here.”

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