On January 20th, 2020, I had the pleasure of seeing the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), lawyer, and activist, Brian Stevenson give a lecture at Davidson. I was not in attendance on the winter break Montgomery trip, so I had no prior knowledge of his work or what the EJI does. In that respect, I was open and receptive to what he had to say with no preconceived notions of any sort. He structured the lecture around the central yet seemingly unobtainable question:
And so he set forth on a series of framing anecdotes and life lessons. He outlined the mass injustices present in our society: the 2.2 million incarcerated people who are disenfranchised for life as a result, the 30% of black males in Alabama who have lost the right to vote, and our legal system that prioritizes finality over fairness.
Stevenson emphasized the importance of proximity and doing things that make us uncomfortable. Staying in the same environment with the same people in a homogenous setting our entire lives will never bring about the ideological change needed to impact our world.
The culprits of injustice, he laid out, were politics of fear and anger that make us tolerate, accept, and indifferent about the grievances of others. In our “post-genocide” society, we have morphed from slavery to terrorism and black migration as refugee crises. Public policy teaches about maximizing benefits and minimizing costs, but for who? He posed this question and polarity that exists in our polity. Yet with all of this, he stated, we must not become hopeless, for hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
“Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.”
Stevenson has a way of talking that spurs something inside every member of the audience. He brews a sense of self-efficacy within everyone who hears him speak. He is a riveting storyteller with a faceted view of the world. His lecture held a prayer-like cadence, which is likely how he managed to breathe life and hold the careful attention of an entire basketball stadium of people.