Bryan Stevenson at NAIS: Beat the Drum for Justice

NAIS facebookHuman apathy is the greatest calamity of all.

I have heard many extraordinary presentations and speeches at NAIS Annual Conferences over the years. None has had the impact of Bryan Stevenson.

I was one of perhaps 6.000 plus educators who heard this remarkable performance by a gifted storyteller last Friday. It moved many to tears and all to their feet for a standing ovation.

Stevenson is the founder Executive Director  of the Equal Justice Initiative. They work to fight poverty and they challenge racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Take a look at their work:

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What most stays with me now – a few days later –  are the compelling and dramatic stories he told of the people he has known and the work that he has done. His stories illustrated the key themes of his speech, What remains also is his urgent case and call to action.

These were the four hooks on which he hung the stories that brought all of it alive in the compelling 3-D reality of real people’s real lives.

We must:

1) Get proximate

Get close. Learn from those closest to the issue.  We can’t legislate for good from a distance. We must know and understand the lived experience of those we seek to help. There’s a power in proximity and we need to get closer to those communities where there is despair and poverty. Proximity will change you.

2) Change the narrative.

Shackled by a legacy of racism and indifference we have allowed politicians to exploit fear and anger and define the narrative. We are a post genocidal nation and we have never come to terms with our past. Unlike South Africa, Rwanda and Germany we have never faced up to the genocide on which the country was founded nor the legacy of slavery that lasted well beyond emancipation and endures today.  This was – and is – terrorism. We need Truth and Reconciliation to set us all free. 

3) Remain hopeful.

We need to commit to staying hopeful. Hope is an essential ingredient of positive change. We have a society that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent but we must be agents of hope. 

4 ) Be willing to be uncomfortable and to do uncomfortable things.

We must beat the drum for justice. Stevenson asks: “Why do we want to kill all the broken people in our country?” Get proximate he says and it will break you too.

I do what I do because I’m broken too.

What a remarkable call to action.

Stevenson is also the author of Just Mercy.  I’ve just bought my copy.

Here are some of the stories of the people whose lives he has changed. There’s a movie in the making too. Maybe it will show up at the Oscars next year. For sure they will be looking for something “black’ to compensate for 2016. Right?

Right now we are in an ugly political season, at least among the Republicans. We watch while responsible conservatives try to manage their party as they reap the whirlwind of decades of irresponsible dog-whistle racism. (To give just one example: In 1980 Reagan opened his presidential campaign with a speech endorsing “state’s rights” in Philadelphia, county seat of Mississippi’s Neshoba County, Mississippi.) 

Neshoba County is where three civil rights workers — Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman — were abducted and murdered by the Klan in 1964. And now in 2016 the improbable probable GOP candidate has been endorsed by the KKK and is the son of possible Klan sympathizer. 

Our world can begin to tilt toward justice if all of us in that audience on Friday use what influence and power we have to do something and follow that prescription to get close, change the narrative, stay hopeful and be willing to be uncomfortable.

And what’s the story? Here’s Marsha Colby’s. Click to read more.

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And Ian Manuel – arrested at age 13

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