Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three Things: Bryan Stevenson's Lecture

As soon as our guest lecturer finished we rose to our feet and applauded furiously. It was clear to everyone in that room that we were standing in the presence of a great man. Bryan Stevenson is an attorney who fought to free many unjustly convicted criminals. He is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. He is also a professor of law at New York University School of Law. He came to speak for over an hour to anyone on campus who wanted to listen. The hall was packed with professors, students and people from the area. This is a little outside of what I usually blog about, but I want to share three of the things that he taught us about seeking justice. I took the lettering from my notes during the lecture. As I finish my last year of college and think about my life after school his message comes as a challenge to the way I will build my adult life. 

1. Get Proximate
Stevenson structured his talk around four main ideas. The very first thing he told us was to, "We must get proximate." We cannot help people and understand them from a distance. We need to go into the areas that are full of drug abuse, prostitution and perceived danger and live. Being around makes a difference in and of itself. There is power in being close to the neglected and the broken. 

2. Change The Narrative
We buy into narratives that separate us from people who are broken. For instance: instead of crafting a narrative around drug abuse, which frames it as a disease, and using the health care system to combat it, we have created a story of how drug abuse is a crime. We use the criminal justice system to incarcerate mothers who cannot escape drug culture and young people who are trapped within the clutches of addiction. 

We use the "criminal” narrative to justify our harshness toward groups of people. The narratives create fear. We legitimised slavery because we bought the narrative that people who have a different skin colour are less worthy. We must repent of this so that we can begin to heal. Christians and especially evangelicals do not like to talk about our sins, but unless we do we cannot move forward. Instead of glossing over the genocide of the Native Americans we need to openly repent. Instead of telling the story of slavery but then quickly moving on to more optimistic stories of black people who rose above adversity, we need to sit uncomfortably with the reality of the pain and suffering and say, “No more.”

3. Keep Hopeful
Do not be swallowed up by sorrow. Here Stevenson shared a story of how he visited a prisoner in jail in Alabama. As he drove up to the prison parking lot he saw a truck that was decorated by ten Confederate flags and several racist bumper stickers. One read, “If I knew then what I know now I would have picked my own damn cotton.” Stevenson approached the jail and was met by a hostile guard, who forced him to display his bar card, even though he had never needed to prove he was an attorney before. The man did not believe that a black man could be a respectable lawyer. When he asked to go in to his client again the man said, “I won’t let you in until I have strip searched you.” Stevenson felt extremely disrespected and refused to undergo that humiliation. Finally he had to give in and be strip searched. Finally he was let in, but as he walked in the door the guard leaned in and said, “See that truck over there? I want to know that that is my truck.”

Stevenson met his client and the first thing out of the client’s mouth was, “Did you bring me a chocolate milkshake?” Surprised, Stevenson said, “No.” Later he realised that the man was severely mentally challenged. Partly because he had grown up in 28 different foster homes before the age of ten. Each time he met with the man, he asked for a milkshake, but Stevenson always had to say, “No.” Finally the court date came. At the trial Stevenson saw the terrible truck in the parking lot. He resolved not to let the presence of that guard in the courtroom trouble him. They won the trial and the handicapped man was taken off death row. Weeks later Stevenson decided to check in on him. He almost turned right around because the guard’s truck was there. But he decided not to and went in. He said, “Here is my bar card.” 
But the guard said, “I don’t need to see that.”
“Here I am ready to be searched.”
“I don’t need to search you.”
“Well, I suppose I still need to sign the book.”
“I already signed you in. Go on and see your client.”

The guard said to Stevenson, “I heard the testimony of your client. I thought that I was the only who has had such a terrible experience in the foster care system, but I was worng. That man had it worse. And what you are doing to help him is incredible. May I please shake your hand?” Then he said, “I also want you to know that on the way back from the trial I took a detour with your client. I took him to a Wendy’s and bought him a huge chocolate milkshake.” 

Bryan Stevenson used this story as evidence that you must keep up hope. You must not give in to doubt and fear. With our faith in Christ that he can indeed do as he promises coupled with hope we cannot be moved. 

Bonus: Be Uncomfortable
No real changes have ever occurred because someone decided to stay with what they were comfortable with. It will teach us our own brokenness. It will teach us mercy and grace to rely on God. We can be at a place like Wheaton, where we are nurtured and safe for a time. But we must be readying ourselves for a life outside of that comfort, in which we can confront the things God has in store for us. 

1 comment:

  1. Lucy Rose - thank you!! I LOVE this post and all you've shared from this speaker, whom I intend to learn more about! I'm printing this post out so I can refer back to it in the future! Julie