Four takeaways from Bryan Stevenson’s talk on justice and healing at Mia

Speaking during an exhibition of art inspired by the police shooting of Philando Castile, the prison reform activist called for hope.

By Lizzi Ginsberg, communications intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

•••

Bryan Stevenson is a public defense lawyer, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy. On Friday, June 22, he came to Mia to give a lecture as part of Mia’s current exhibition “Art and Healing: In the Moment.”

During the talk, he spoke to wounds and traumas that have shaped this nation’s history: mass incarceration, systemic inequality, fear, hate, persecution, intolerance. But throughout the evening his message remained hopeful and left the audience with the following takeaways, noted here by listeners themselves.

  1. Get proximate.

For Stevenson, this simple act of getting proximate—getting to know your community and neighbors—is the first step in making change. But, you must be mindful, it doesn’t stop there.

2. Change narratives.

“I don’t think slavery ended in 1863, it just evolved,” Stevenson said. “It created a narrative that black people aren’t equal to white people.” To fix this narrative, Stevenson urged, challenge the silence that surrounds slavery and oppression.

3. Have hope.

“I don’t want to punish America, I want to liberate America,” Stevenson said. “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.” For Stevenson, believing in the possibility of change is essential to enacting change.

4. Do uncomfortable things.

Of course, as Stevenson made clear in his final word of advice, enacting change requires action. It requires people (especially those in leadership) to be uncomfortable, to make difficult choices, to open up old wounds so that this time they can heal properly.

The healing this country needs is no small undertaking—something Stevenson is well aware of. So, to the audience he left a final parting:

“When you stay hopeful, there are moments where you’ll feel broken.”