University of Houston-Downtown’s (UHD) Political Science Student of the Year RoShawn Evans defied the odds after being wrongfully jailed for a crime he did not commit. It was only through his resilience and perseverance that he was capable of emerging from the corrupt corrections system armed to create substantial change in the world.
Evans began studying at UHD, and he was shockingly honored with the Political Science Student of the Year award this year.
“I was in class, and my phone started blowing up,” he recalled. “People were texting me telling me I received this award. It was quite a surprise, and I am honored to be recognized for my work at UHD.”
The undergraduate student’s academic performance has earned him one of the university’s highest accolades. In addition to Evans’ Student of the Year award from UHD, he also earned certifications from the National Center for Leadership and Success. His academic and professional accomplishments thus far are just a glimpse into what Evans is doing to inspire his peers and the Houston community. Evans’ contributions to the community are helping many local Houstonians overcome the same challenges he once faced.
RoShawn is the co-founder of the nonprofit organization Pure Justice, which advocates for the criminal justice reform and supports communities that are at risk for incarceration. The organization includes families of those who are behind bars and individuals who may have been wrongly convicted of a crime similar to Evans wrongful verdict. Alongside Pure Justice’s core initiatives, the nonprofit also hosts workshops addressing citizens’ rights and educating community members on how state and local governments are structured. The organization also assists with legal counsel and support for community members who might not be able to afford the services of a lawyer.
“We work to bring fairness and equity to the criminal justice system, as well as create economic opportunity for marginalized groups,” Evans said. “We also empower our group’s members to advocate for themselves … whether it’s through educational opportunities or other means.”
Pure Justice has unified with other community organizations for events in Houston, and Evans emphasizes the necessity for groups like his organization to exist in their community. Nevertheless, Evans recalls the road to building this local nonprofit was one filled with physical and emotional challenges.
Evans has grown to be a scholar, community organizer and an author, documenting his trials within the criminal justice system in his book Stolen Identity – 1953521. The story follows his journey from being wrongly convicted to his emergence from incarceration with a mission to help others who have been in the same situation.
Sadly, wrongful convictions have become commonplace, particularly amongst minority populations. According to The National Registry of Exonerations, people of color are more likely to be wrongly convicted and spend more time in prison than others before being exonerated.
Evans reminisces on his breaking point being involved in the criminal justice system.
“Before I got to this point, the criminal justice system broke me down,” Evans said. “I was at a place in my life where I had just given up. The people around me didn’t even recognize me because I was a different person. It took me a while to realize that the worst thing that ever happened to me became one of the best things to happen to me … because now I can help make a difference for others.”
The Flint, Michigan native relocated to Houston in hopes of escaping the cold winters. Though this year’s historic freeze in Texas was a surprise for Evans and the Houston community, Evans gravitated to the usual warmth of Houston’s climate and its residents. He has also expressed immense gratitude for the inviting atmosphere on UHD’s campus from students and faculty alike.
“I’ve attended a few other colleges, but the professors at UHD are my favorite teachers,” said the soon-to-be summer graduate. “They really want the students to succeed and are there for us when we need them. It’s been an amazing experience, and I am grateful to be a part of the University.”
Evans shares his personal advice to his fellow UHD students and people interested in attending college in the future.
“Follow your passion and make a career out of it. That’s the best way to make an impact in any industry and in your community. When you follow your heart, you’ll bring love into your career … whether it’s in criminal justice, health care, education, or anything. And that’s what we need right now in this world … more love.”
RoShawn Evans plans to take his education to the next level by attending law school to further help redirect the criminal justice system in support of his community. He says the classes at UHD have prepared him for that next chapter in his life. Much success to Evans as he closes out a life-changing moment in his journey and embarks on a brand new voyage.