I just returned from a trip to Washington DC where six students and I studied the issue of mass incarceration. I will write more about this trip soon, but for now I just want to highlight the inspiring work of Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption details his journey into this work beginning with one of his first cases, defending Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he did not commit. I highly recommend this book as well as a number of videos where you can hear Stevenson speak. In this 45 minute video you can hear Stevenson talk about “Confronting Injustice.” At about the 20 minute mark he talks about the importance of “protecting our hopefulness.” Here’s a little of what he says:
If we are going to create more justice in the world, we have to protect our hopefulness. Injustice is a direct consequence of hopelessness. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. When I go into a courtroom and I see a hopeless judge and a hopeless prosecutor and a hopeless defense attorney, I know that there is going to be a bad outcome. When I go into a school system and see hopeless teachers trying to deal with hopeless sets of rules, I am very worried about the future of our children. When I go into communities and hear people talking about issues but I hear them giving in to the despair and hopelessness that oftentimes emerge because things get complicated, I get very worried. The complexity of the world can oftentimes make us hopeless about what we can do. We have to be curious and understand the complexities of issues, but we also have to protect our hopefulness because we cannot move forward without hope. We cannot create more opportunities for justice without hope.
I encourage you to get to know Stevenson’s work. Learning more about our country’s urgent need for criminal justice reform will disturb and challenge–the stories of injustice are heart wrenching. But, as Stevenson shares with us, we have good reason to hope, because through hope we find our way forward to justice.