On Wednesday, February 21, Bryan Stevenson gave a lecture at Friends Seminary. Mr. Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer who defends people on death row who are awaiting their execution. In April 2018, he opened a memorial on lynching in Montgomery, Alabama. Also, Mr. Stevenson wrote a book called, A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law.
The recent lecture was sponsored by Friends Seminary, City and Country, LREI, Grace Church, Village Community School, and Saint Luke’s. The lecture was jam packed and Mr. Stevenson received a standing ovation before and after his speech. The audience, made up of students, parents, and teachers, was captivated by his motivating and personal lecture about people who are imprisoned unjustly.
During Mr. Stevenson’s lecture, he shared what he believes to be the four ways to bring about change. These were to gain proximity, change the narrative, have hope, and to do uncomfortable things.
On the topic of gaining proximity, Mr. Stevenson told the audience to get closer to poor, disadvantaged, and forgotten people and to have empathy. One needs to bring themselves closer to them in order to fully understand their situation and comfort them.
In order to change the narrative one cannot stereotype a race as a bad one. Change the stories and thoughts on different races and people. Everyone has to be honest with America’s history and how to this day people believe that African-Americans are inferior.
In addition, we cannot succumb to hopelessness and need believe that change is possible. The world is changing in it’s own way. No one should be defeated by how the world is today because there is still hope.
Lastly, people should do things for a good cause, even if you would rather not do it. One should step out of their comfort zone in order to experience things that will help them have a better understanding of the world.
Mr. Stevenson said that he became devoted to criminal justice because when he was in law school, he was sent to tell a man in prison that he was not going to be executed for at least one year. He shared that this was a life-changing experience because the man thanked and hugged him and they became friends while talking for three hours. Mr. Stevenson realized how the little things that we do affect people’s lives. The man that he talked to thanked Mr. Stevenson for letting him not be ashamed to see his family again.
Another story that Mr. Stevenson shared with his captivated audience was one about a nine-year-old boy who was put in jail for accidentally shooting his mother’s boyfriend, the deputy sheriff. The boy saw the boyfriend abusing his mother and one time he found her on the floor and thought he was dead. The boy was angry at the boyfriend, but did not mean to shoot him. When Mr. Stevenson went to the jail to question the young boy, he would not talk until Mr. Stevenson leaned on him. After he leaned on him, the nine-year-old started to cry and shared that he had been badly beaten twice and had been inappropriately touched within the first three nights of his stay. This young boy had never done something truly bad in his short lifetime so far, so Mr. Stevenson knew jail was not the place for him. He fought with his heart and bailed him out of a life sentence. He shared that to this day, the boy who is not so young anymore, calls Mr. Stevenson about once a year to thank him.
However, some of Mr. Stevenson’s cases did not have a happily ever after. A condemned man asked him to help him, so Mr. Stevenson said yes. He fought and fought for this man because the man had a mental illness, but no one would listen. Mr. Stevenson felt ashamed that he had to tell the condemned man that the man would be executed. When the man heard, he stuttered a lot and tried to get out his last sentence before his execution. After many tries, he finally got out his words and said that he loved and appreciated Mr. Stevenson for what he had done to try and save him. He realized then that not all of his experiences with being a lawyer for death row would have a happy ending.
On another note, many families and teachers from the C&C community attended the lecture. Pete Weiss, XllsP’s teacher, said that he thought the lecture was powerful and that the stories were shared were deeply emotional. “I wish more students could hear him speak,” said Pete. “His message was for young people.” Trayshia Rogers, Xllls co-teacher, agreed with Pete. She said that the lecture was inspiring and that she wanted to reinforce what Mr. Stevenson said. “I think that there is an incredible amount of power with what he said about having to position yourself closer to gain proximity and empathize with others. In order for people of different races and classes to be accepted fully, the issues have to be discussed before being resolved or moved forward,” said Trayshia when explaining that this part is always ignored.
Tallulah Stallvik, XllsP, shared, “He spoke that night to spark hope in our hearts, to open our eyes and make us want to push back against the government’s unjust ways. He is a true inspiration to many who were there and to many others who didn’t have the privilege to be there.”
Bryan Stevenson is a force to be reckoned with. He has fought for people with all of his heart and has been through some experiences that not a lot of people would cope with as well as he did. He has persevered through racism and changed some people’s prejudiced views of African-Americans. The audience at his lecture certainly seemed to feel honored that such an influential person came to share his perspective and stories with them.