Harvard law graduate recounts courtroom memories in the South
THE SANTA CLARA
January 21, 2016
Bryan Stevenson moved a packed Mayer Theater through oscillating emotions, eliciting both tears and laughter as he shared his experiences working on death row.
Stevenson, a lawyer himself, came campus for the 10th Presidential Speaker Series and shared personal stories, outlining four solutions to the most prevalent and pressing issues in the justice system.
He first urged the audience to get “proximate to the problems we care most deeply about.” He recalled the profound effect his experience as a law school student working with a death row inmate had on him.
“When you choose to get proximate to the places in this community where there is poverty and neglect and suffering and inequality—whether it’s anguish and despair—you will learn things, you will do things that will change your life,” Stevenson said. “You’ll find that you have more power than you think you have.”
Stevenson’s next point was what he described as “changing the narrative.”
He elucidated the problems created by policy choices in which decision makers rely on faulty narratives rather than real issues threatening communities. He said these decisions result from fear and anger and used the example of the war on drugs being treated as a crime issue rather than a health issue. He went deeper into the narrative of racial inequality in the United States, taking the issue all the way back to its roots in slavery.
“I think all of us are infected by our history of racial inequality,” he said. “It shapes the way we see the world, it shapes the way we think, it shapes the way we behave.”
His final two points urged listeners to remain hopeful that justice is possible and to step out of their comfort zones in order to make the necessary changes.
“Hope gets you to stand when others say ‘sit,’” he said after recounting an anecdote in which a prison guard who provoked him eventually came around and expressed his respect for Stevenson.
Before a brief question and answer session, Stevenson said that, like the justice system, he is broken. That is why he has dedicated his life to advocating for change.
“There is power in brokenness,” he said. “If we’re going to create justice in this country it will not come from the whole and the healthy and privileged and elite.”
Contact Jenni Sigl at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.