Bryan Stevenson Speaks at Public Welfare Foundation
Bryan Stevenson, a tireless advocate for racial justice and fairness for adults and juveniles in the criminal justice system, spoke to an audience of 100 people last Friday at an event in the Public Welfare Foundation’s Lankford Auditorium. A longtime grantee through his Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson shares the Foundation’s commitment to ending mass incarceration, addressing racial disparities and economic inequities that permeate – and taint – the criminal justice system, and ending policies and practices that push youth into the adult criminal justice system.
Mixing in poignant anecdotes about life lessons he learned from his grandmother and his clients, some of which are drawn from his 2014 New York Times best-selling book, Just Mercy, Stevenson outlined a blueprint for addressing lingering inequality in America by “changing the racial narrative.”
His four-point plan to accomplish that involves:
- Getting closer – or more proximate – to the history and legacy of slavery in America. As he put it, “Narratives change when we get close enough to the [things] we care deeply about…” He noted that every person in America, regardless of color, has been “diseased…burdened…and compromised” by slavery, which was preceded by genocide against native Americans, uniquely justified on the basis of white supremacy, and followed by an 80-year reign of terror and brutal acts of violence against people of color, particularly in the South. Dealing with these issues and their lingering effects is essential to racial healing and reconciliation in this country.
- Making the truth about America’s racial history more concrete and breaking our collective silence. “We don’t talk about slavery, lynching, and segregation,” he said, “and because of that we are not free.” In Montgomery, Alabama, where he lives and works, he is pushing for a museum that will span the decades from slavery to mass incarceration. He is also behind a project to place a marker at the site of every known lynching in America.
- Tackling these difficult issues with hope. “We have to be agents of hope if we are going to change the narrative,” he told the audience.
- Being willing to do things that are “uncomfortable and inconvenient,” such as confronting the fact that even people like himself, who are looking to change a broken criminal justice system, are also broken. “I don’t do what I do because of social justice,” he admitted. “I do what I do because I’m broken, too.” But, he added, “there is power in broken-ness…[because] you are beating the drum for justice.”
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