Facilitator notes: This session is built from Bryan Stevenson’s 2017 Ware Lecture at the UUA General Assembly. A group of South Church High School youth and adults were in New Orleans that year to hear his inspiring lecture, and it was the inspiration behind our first youth trip to Alabama a few years later (in 2019)
Bryan Stevenson Founded the Equal Justice Initiative (which then established the museum and memorial in Montgomery) in part because he began to realize that the teaching space- a place where we can better understand our history and the connection from past to present- was a necessary part of challenging racial and economic injustice. He says that a part of the reason for mass incarceration and cruel punitive practices lives in the fact that we have been enculturated to accept extreme violent punishment.
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
Chalice Lighting –
There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.
Opening activity- We began our session with an opportunity to share in small groups (of 4ppl) about one thing we have learned as we explored one or more of the recommended learning resources. The image at the top of this page reflects that sharing time.
If you missed our session, email Kirsten with your own learning moment! Kirsten@southchurch-uu.org
Bryan Stevenson’s call at GA in 2017:
- We must get “proximate” to suffering and understand the nuanced experiences of those who suffer from and experience inequality. Bryan Stevenson believes that “if you are willing to get closer to people who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world.”
- We must change the narratives that sustain problems. Narratives that fail to acknowledge or accurately portray the reality of inequality only serve to perpetuate it. Stevenson referenced the politics of fear and anger that led to “zero tolerance” policies and armed officers in schools that promote a narrative that students in schools are criminals to be punished rather than children to be taught.
- We must stay hopeful about what we can do to end injustice.
- We must be willing to do things that are uncomfortable. Stevenson observed that fighting—sometimes in vain—for the rights of some of the most downtrodden members of society can feel uncomfortable. However, there is restorative power in doing so. Through his often-heartbreaking work, he has realized that he is committed to working for equality not only because he wants to fix a broken system, but because he recognizes his own brokenness in the brokenness of those he serves.
At the group gathering we split into groups of 4 and each person shared their response to this question:
When was a time when you have practiced getting proximate? What changed about the situation through that practice?
If you missed our session, take 10 minutes to reflect on this prompt question in your journal.
Honoring the Complexity of this kind of travel:
There is currently a documentary on Netflix about the last ship of enslaved people known to have come to the United States (well after emancipation). The film title is: Descendent. If you have a netflix account, We began this portion of our discussion by watching a clip from the film: minute mark 1:14:55- 1:16:52, where Anderson Flen, a community activist in Alabama was Speaking at the entrance of the EJI Memorial.
In this clip, Mr. Flen observed that coming to the EJI museum can “become another form of entertainment”
“Most of the people who come here, I’m sure have been blessed beyond imaginations. This is just a blip in their lives- a few seconds. They’re not gonna do anything with it…”
Questions we discussed (for those who missed this session, reflect on your own!
- How does hearing this observation feel? Take a few minutes to write down what you notice in your body as you reflect on this reality and it’s truth in how people often engage in these kinds of experiences. As you reflect, resist the urge to move on to answers or commitments.. really take some time to observe what you feel hearing this man speak this truth.
- Then, after taking the time to sit with those feelings, take a few more minutes to write down your response. What thoughts do you have in consideration of this observation? How can we, as a community, help one another to be accountable going forward? What might that look like?
- We will be revisiting this question in future discussions (and after we return from Alabama).