A few years ago, I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, a challenging experience that pulled me through a wider range of intellectual and emotional moments than most other serious books. As its subtitle says, it is A Story of Justice and Redemption—always the kind of story we need but especially now in these strange days.
Watching the film version of the book last month took me on that journey again and sent me back to Stevenson’s memoir.
The particulars matter, always, and Just Mercy provides plenty of human examples, leaving the reader/viewer with profound take-aways. Check them out if you haven’t already done so.
Readers of TURNING POINTS will find no shortage of key moments in Just Mercy that result in changes—individual, cultural, legal.
Humans depend on hope, even in the grimmest conditions. Imagine family members of an incarcerated person who faces execution. Picture lawyers, social workers, neighbors, friends wanting to be supportive but also realistic and honest.
In his years of working to help individuals he believed to be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, Bryan Stevenson gained “a maturing recognition of the importance of hopefulness in creating justice.”
Speaking to groups, he often referenced Czech leader Vaclav Havel, who identified hope as “the one thing that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.”
He saw hope as a need.
In contrast, “more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure” were what he called ‘wants.’
As we stumble through these difficult and odd days, let us maintain hope, and understand that we face potential turning points when we least expect them, that we might not recognize them as such at the moment, and that we owe it to ourselves and others to be as well-informed and rational as possible.
Times of great upheaval and change bring out both the best and worst in humans, and let us move ahead with at least a shred of humility and patience, knowing that we never will find that everyone agrees with our brilliant wisdom—no matter how many Likes our attacks get on Facebook—and that in the end, we need each other. Keep hope alive.
Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on nedbachus.com. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May 2019 issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/1901eAdvocate_ThrivingFinal.pdf