I had the privilege of hearing Bryan Stevenson speak this past August at the Global Leadership Summit. He engages his audience with insightful observations while pulling them into the story he tells. That day as he spoke, he both empowered me and broke my heart. He spoke of the need to change the narratives in our society that sustain injustice. His speech encouraged his listeners to change their proximity to the vulnerable populations in our society. “There is power in proximity.”
I ordered his book, Just Mercy*, that evening after I left the Summit. It took me a few days to open the book and start reading. My hesitation was a curious thing because my usual pattern after enjoying a speaker is to devour their writing as soon as possible. I remember discussing this hesitation with my mother and saying, “I’m scared to read this because I think it’s going to make me want to return to law school.”
When I did open the book, I found his writing as engaging, thought provoking, and powerful as his speaking. In Just Mercy, Mr. Stevenson tells a bit of his own story and his journey to becoming an advocate for reform in the American criminal justice system. However, the crux of this book is his telling of other people’s stories – people wrongly convicted in the criminal system. He does more than put faces to the issues; he puts his heart into them and encourages his reader to do the same.
Mr. Stevenson reminds his audience that the men and women who are serving time in prison are people. They are not just the sum of their crimes or their life circumstances. He discusses racial inequality, excessive sentencing, inhumane treatment of prisoners, wrongful convictions, the discrimination of the poor, and many other issues in the American justice system. He tackles the issues through telling the stories of people who experienced these issues firsthand.
The book tackles tough issues without condemning or shaming the reader. Instead, Mr. Stevenson brings awareness and ultimately offers hope that everyone can make a difference. He explains that the words we use and the narratives we perpetuate go a long way in shaping our culture. Mr. Stevenson encourages his audience to stand up for the poor and the disenfranchised because they are worthy of love and dignity.
I encourage you to read the book. It made an impact on my life and my vision for the future.
More resources that include Mr. Stevenson: