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Isabel recently attended an event featuring Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and social justice activist who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and is the author of the award-winning bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. She was so inspired by what he had to say that she immediately sat down to write the following post for the blog:
I need to share with you this deeply moving experience that changed my views about freedom, justice and equality in the United States. I was blown away by Bryan Stevenson’s passion and eloquence. Over an hour-and-a-half period he explained to an almost all-white audience at the local Jewish Community Center here in Marin County how injustice targets blacks, minorities, the poor, the broken, the mentally ill, and worst of all, children.
Stevenson told us that his office is in Alabama, the state with the highest rate of executions in the country. In fact, the US is one of the few countries in the world that still has the death penalty. It has 2.3 million people incarcerated—by far the largest number in the world—and there are 7 million Americans, most of them people of color, who cannot vote because of having once been behind bars. We are also the only country in the world where a 13-year-old child can be condemned to die in prison.
Stevenson is not one to sit back quietly, however. He was instrumental in a recent and historic Supreme Curt ruling that mandatory life without parole for children 17 and younger is unconstitutional.
The obvious question is, what can we do? To start, Stevenson has spoken of four things that can bring change:
- Proximity: Get really close to the problem and to the victims of the system.
- Change the narrative: We have not reconciled with our past; we need to talk truthfully about slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and the idea of white supremacy to understand and end discrimination.
- Hope: Stevenson is convinced that justice for all is possible. Losing hope is the best way to maintain the status quo.
- Get uncomfortable: Demonstrate, protest, challenge the system, create awareness, become an activist.
Since I can’t possibly summarize Stevenson’s crusade for compassion and justice as well as he can, please watch his 2012 TED Talk.