For months, I have been fretting about graduate school decisions and life choices generally, but on a more personal level about losing my way. Most don’t come out of law school looking to combat injustice, and the freedom fight does not typically pay as well as corporate America. What if I get swept up in the titles and pay checks and forget? How do I continue to maintain the quality of my intent? I had the pleasure of hearing Bryan Stevenson give a talk entitled “Confronting Injustice: Changing the Narrative Around Excessive Punishment, Inequality and What Justice Requires.” I’ve gone back to my notes from that talk when I’m feeling unsure and afraid.
In it, he talked about the four things that we, as a group of future lawyers, must do in order to create justice, here are my notes from that day interspersed with comments of my own in italics, hopefully they will aide others as they continue to aide me.
Four Things That You Must Do In Order to Create Justice:
1). Decide that you want to be PROXIMATE to the issues and people that you care about. Law school is the kind of institution that will separate you if you’re not careful.
When you get close to things that matter, you hear things that you cannot hear from a distance. You see things that you cannot see from a distance. Proximity is essential to justice. You cannot put aside the things you care about for the next three years.
We do not need to put our work on hold as we acquire the tools we think we need to be relevant and effective to the struggle. Each day, and each encounter is an opportunity to work towards justice. I will use every opportunity; tomorrow is too late.
2) In order to create justice, to create the kind of lives where you can use your skills in a meaningful way, you’ve got to be able to change the narrative. I’m persuaded that people who are about changing the world, about creating justice and opportunity understand the importance of changing the narrative.
Slavery didn’t really end, slavery just transformed. Slavery just transformed into the Era of terror.
Look at the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement. We talk about the triumph but we don’t talk about the pain. And if you talk about this as a three-day struggle, you’ll be impatient with people who are still talking about race and racial injustice.
White people in many parts of this country were actually taught by the people who loved them that they were actually better than other people and we have not helped them to recover from that abuse.
We must be patient, and work hard, and expand how we talk and think about issues and legacies. The idea of the alternative narrative, the inclusion of something other than what is dominant and prevalent and thought to be the only truth is imperative to attaining true justice. That one can be successful, happy, and fulfilled on paths that do not include a white house and picket fence is important. That beauty is something more inclusive than what is seen on the magazine covers is important. That Black and brown people are something other than violence and destined for poverty is important. Justice reveals of spectrum of lived experience, commonalities and divergences.
3) Find a way to stay hopeful. Our challenge as teachers is to complicate the way you think about a problem and it’s important to appreciate that complexity. But it is also important to not become hopeless about the way in which you are able to change the world. The kind of hope you need to advance justice is a hope of the spirit. It requires standing up when others are sitting… But it also requires a hopefulness about saying the things that need to be said. It requires staying hopeful about what we can do to confront inequality and injustice.
Sometimes, it feels like things will never change, or that they have changed and now we are moving backwards. Find support. Seek out those who are like-minded and prop each other up when necessary. Every day may not be a win, but we only truly lose when we let doubt keep us from trying again tomorrow.
4) Choose to do the things that are uncomfortable. Think about being intent towards the choice of uncomfortability, some of us are privileged enough that we don’t have to do uncomfortable things. Justice in this country has been brought about by people who stood up and said I’m going to do something that is uncomfortable. Standing up for your basic rights when you’re going to lose jobs, respect etc. is not easy.
Choose to do something that you know is going to be uncomfortable but is essential to creating justice.
Our system is so prioritizing of finality over fairness these days.
Why do we want to kill all the broken people?
I don’t do what I do because I think it’s important, or it has to be done or I have training in it because I have a law degree, I do what I do because I’m broken too. I’ve gotten too close, seen too much, experienced things and when you get close to inequality and injustice, it will hurt you.
You are fighting for yourself too. Your quality of life, your peace of mind is connected to the inequality happening around you.
The opposite of poverty is justice. You judge a society’s commitment to the rule of law, the civility of law… By how you treat the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned.
On knowing Rosa Parks, Carr and Durr after telling them about his project: that’s gon make you tired, tired, tired… that’s why you got to be brave, brave, brave.
Choosing all 4 of these things will exhaust you, but in that exhaustion you will feel something that feels like moving towards justice.
Also check out his Tedtalk here: Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice | Talk Video | TED.com.