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Nationally recognized program ensures that young man did not die in vain

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Jeh Jeh and Kerri Pruitt started The Dannon Project to honor his older brother, who was shot and killed in 1967. (Provided photo)

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

Jeh Jeh and Kerri Pruitt started The Dannon Project to honor his older brother, who was shot and killed in 1967. (Provided photo)
Jeh Jeh and Kerri Pruitt started The Dannon Project to honor his brother, who was shot and killed in 1997. (Provided photo)

Sunday dinners weren’t the same after Danon Pruitt was shot and killed in 1997.

“When he died, the way he died, it was extremely hard for the whole family to take,” said Fox 6 television anchor and reporter Jeh Jeh Pruitt, Danon’s oldest brother.

It was especially hard on their mother, Loretta Todd Pruitt. The family had long enjoyed Sunday meals after church at her home in the Hobson City neighborhood of Birmingham. Those dinners became somber affairs without Danon.

“I used to have conversations with his mom about the grief she was still experiencing, even in the years that ensued afterward,” recalled Kerri Pruitt, Jeh Jeh’s wife. “She used to say things like, ‘I hope Danon didn’t die in vain.’ ‘What could I have done differently?’ ”

Jeh Jeh and Kerri Pruitt ultimately found a way to ensure that Danon did not die in vain. They established the Dannon Project, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that began by helping those who had served time in prison and keeping them from returning to a life behind bars.

The nonprofit is named for Danon, even though it is spelled differently. An extra n was inadvertently added as the Pruitts applied for nonprofit status for the organization in 2003.

Kerri Pruitt is the executive director of the program, which has been nationally recognized for its work with at-risk individuals.

Marcus Sharp, Career Development Associate looks over Porsha Freeman as she logs onto a financial literacy class. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)
Marcus Sharp, Career Development Associate looks over Porsha Freeman as she logs onto a financial literacy class. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)

Danon was killed by a person who had been recently released from prison on a nonviolent offense. Kerri believed that if this young man had had a strong support system after his release he probably would have made better choices about how he used his time, maybe preventing Danon’s death.

“Let’s start an organization to help people and keep them from going back to prison,” Jeh Jeh Pruitt recalled his wife saying.

Kerri Pruitt found that Alabama has a high rate of recidivism tied to a series of barriers that work against released prison inmates. Many can’t get assistance for public housing, food stamps, employment, or a Pell grant to continue their education.

Initially, the Pruitts worked out of their South Crestwood home. Now, the Dannon Project—which has now grown to 24 staff and consultants—is based in the former Trailways bus terminal at 2324 Fifth Ave. N.

Ironically, released inmates are given $10 and a one-way bus ticket when they are set free. It was not intentional that the nonprofit is in the former bus station, but Kerri Pruitt believes that is God’s desire.

“No doubt about it,” she said. “I am an unapologetic believer in Christ, and I believe that He orders our steps. It was not my design, but I do believe it was designed by Christ for us to be there.”

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