Quote: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor; the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and – perhaps – we all need some measure of unmerited grace.

~ Bryan Stevenson from Just Mercy

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Quote: It’s a crime, the lie that has been told to generations of black men and white men both.

It’s a crime, the lie that has been told to generations of black men and white men both. Little innocent black children, born of parents who believed that their race had no history. Little black children seeing, before they could talk, that their parents considered themselves inferior. Innocent black children growing up, living out their lives, dying of old age-and all of their lives ashamed of being black. But the truth is pouring out of the bag now. …

You have to be careful, very careful, introducing the truth to the black man who has never previously heard the truth about himself, his own kind, and the white man. My brother Reginald had told me that all Muslims experienced this in their recruiting for Mr. Muhammad. The black brother is so brainwashed that he may even be repelled when he first hears the truth had to be dropped only a little at a time. And you had to wait a while to let it sink in before advancing to the next step. I began first telling my black brother inmates about the glorious history of the black man-things they never had dreamed. I told them the horrible slavery-trade truths that they never knew. I would watch their faces when I told them about that, because the white man had completely erased the slaves’ past, a Negro in America can never know his true family name, or even what tribe he was descended from: the Mandingos, the Wolof, the Serer, the Fula, the Fanti, the Ashanti, or others. I told them that some slaves brought from Africa spoke Arabic, and were Islamic in their religion. A lot of these black convicts still wouldn’t believe it unless they could see that a white man had said it. So, often, I would read to these brothers selected passages from white men’s books. I’d explain to them that the real truth was known to some white men, the scholars; but there had been a conspiracy down through the generations to keep the truth from black men.

~ Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Quote: Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There’s no short cut. We don’t need more talk. ….

But, it would be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do… to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudices that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change. That’s how we lose our way again. …

Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice. Or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. How to break the cycle. A roadway for a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.

~ President Barack Obama, from Eulogy for Reverend and Senator Clementa Pinckney, Charleston, NC, June 26, 2015

Obama on justice


Read President Obama’s full remarks here:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/26/remarks-president-eulogy-honorable-reverend-clementa-pinckney

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