Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, opened his Oct. 30, 2018, forum address with a plea he said “may sound a bit ambitious.”
“I genuinely believe that collectively we can change the world,” Stevenson said.
Before urging students to change the world, Stevenson — an American lawyer, social justice activist and clinical professor at New York University Law School — shared a small scope of the problems the justice system currently faces.
“I work in the criminal justice system where I’ve seen evidence of some challenges and real problems. In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails or prisons in America,” he said. “Today, there are 2.3 million people in jails and prisons. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.”
Stevenson said with these high levels of incarceration, there are high levels of exclusion for those who are released from prison after having done their time.
“We do terrible things to people when they come out of prison. We exclude them, we marginalize them, in many states we disenfranchise them,” he said.
The first of four steps in his “prescription to cure the injustice in today’s society” is to include the poor and excluded.
“Most of us were raised and told by our parents and our communities that we should stay as far away from the bad part of town as possible,” he said. “Today, I am going to argue the opposite. I think that we need to get closer to the people in the bad part of town, in the places where there is abuse, despair and neglect.
Stevenson said with close proximity, communities can change and be close enough to “wrap their arms around people who are struggling.”
The second step in Stevenson’s prescription is to change the narratives beneath policy issues. Stevenson said he believes most of the narrative in society today are shaped by fear and anger.
“I believe that fear and anger are the essential ingredients of inequality,” Stevenson said. When fear and anger shape the narratives of today, oppression begins, according to Stevenson.
Stevenson invited his audience to create healthy communities by staying hopeful.
“Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope is our superpower, it is the way the world changes,” he said.
Stevenson also encouraged attendees to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient. He said he represents the broken in society and noted everyone can as well if they are willing to reach out to those in need, no matter how difficult.
“I don’t do what I do because I’ve been trained as a lawyer. I don’t do what I do because someone has to do it. I don’t do what I do because if I don’t do it no one will,” Stevenson said. “I do what I do because I’m broken too. I’m here to tell you that it is the broken among us that can teach us.”
José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will offer next week’s devotional address on Nov. 6 at 11:05 a.m. MST in the Marriott Center.