Hoping to Change the Dialogue

A few weeks ago, I woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I rarely have nightmares and I’ve never woken myself up screaming before. However, I had been reading Bryan Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy” and I was distraught. I was horrified to read about the number of innocent people who are sent to death row. I could not believe how many children we were sentencing to execution. Our justice system has failed us. We have failed to help those most in need. We have paid more attention to process and rules rather than doing the right thing. My nightmare was about people who wanted to hurt me – and I struggled to yell out. It took me many minutes to find my voice, to shout out for help, to call for others whom I knew were nearby who could come to my aid.

Last Friday, I had the honor of hearing Mr. Stevenson speak. Just like I had read his book without being able to put it down, I was riveted during Mr. Stevenson’s presentation. He shared stories of the people who he has helped, and he gave astounding statistics about our criminal justice system. He spoke of addressing the trauma that African Americans – and especially children – have had to ensure. And as Mr. Stevenson spoke about changing the dialogue, I wondered what we could do. I wondered what I could do. I wondered – with the great many needs of the world, of our country – how we could do everything that needed to be done. Mr. Stevenson spoke of hope, and how hope can empower us and motivate us. I listened carefully. “Hope” is my middle name. When asked for my middle name, I’ve always shared it with pride. But lately, after feeling overwhelmed by a number of things, I’ve shied away from hope. In my mind, hope had taken on a new meaning – one that filled my heart but only left me disappointed time and again. I began to despise hope. I didn’t want it anymore.

Earlier this week, I heard about a large foundation that had just invested $500K in a research project, only to suddenly decide to go in a different direction. The foundation is not sharing its learnings from the now-defunct project. It has no outcomes to share. And, essentially, the entire effort of the foundation seems a waste, which I find incredibly sad. And frustrating. Mr. Stevenson spoke of the top 200 zip codes in the country where we know that 1 out of 3 African American males who reside there will go to prison. What if the foundation had invested $500K in just one of those neighborhoods? What if that foundation had provided needed services, or helped families deal with the trauma of poverty and racism? No, $500K would not have solved the community issues. That would take a much larger investment. But it would be a start. And it would give the community hope. And perhaps it would start a healing process.

Hearing Mr. Stevenson today started a healing process for me. I have a newfound commitment to change the dialogue. To build a better community. To view my own life through a personal lens. To begin new hope.

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