April 27, 2021

Ever grateful to the Richmond Forum for the thoughtful speakers they present to our community, the March event was truly remarkable. Author (Just Mercy) and justice warrior Bryan Stevenson spoke to us via zoom about our nation’s history of racial and economic inequities in our justice system and shared the four key factors he believes will move us forward with mercy.

Get Proximate

I’ve touched on this in a recent Monday Musing, yet it bears repeating. Stevenson reminds us we cannot fully empathize unless we truly understand. And to really “get it”, we must get really close – close to the people who struggle, close to the communities with the greatest challenges, close to the rules and laws that have impact. When we get close, we can embrace people where they are and we’re more capable of offering grace and compassion.

Change the Narrative

Stevenson tells us to help change the narrative. For far too long, we have allowed the narrative to be about distrust and criminalization. There is much more to the story of each individual, particularly those wrongly, harshly, and/or unfairly convicted and sentenced. We must stop repeating and believing an inaccurate narrative and replace it with the truths reflected by understanding, treatment, and compassion.

Less Fear, More Hope

Stevenson admits he has felt defeated – as we all do when we’re facing a glacially-paced uphill battle. But he digs deep to find more hope and suggests that fostering hope is the key to keeping up the fight. There have been wins – small and big – to celebrate and these continue to motivate Stevenson and his team.

Be Uncomfortable

Defending what is right is rarely the convenient or easy path. Stevenson says we need to learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable: to embrace the discomfort of doing the hard thing, to have the tough conversations, to confront the wrongs levied against someone, to defend someone who – on the surface – may look like they don’t warrant defense. Being uncomfortable shouldn’t discourage us, rather, it should challenge our fortitude.

Get Proximate. Change the Narrative. Less Fear, More Hope. Be Uncomfortable. Stevenson’s example shows us the path – who’s in?