GLS 2017: Bryan Stevenson

UnknownI was not able to blog and publish all the speakers at GLS in one sitting, but GLS featured several speakers about whom I have not yet blogged. One of the most profound and provocative speakers of GLS this year was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of him before (one of the great gifts of GLS is meeting amazing leaders I’ve never heard of) but his work and the way he talks about his work is utterly stunning and I am left deeply convicted by the implications of what he is saying. Here are some notes:

— At the start of the talk, Bryan gives highly disturbing stats on USA’s mass incarceration.   In the 1970s, USA incarcerated around 300,000 of its citizens. Now it is 2.3 million. Women’s incarceration has increased 800%. We incarcerate more of our citizens than the next several nations combined.

— Drug dependent people in USA are criminals. We could have used the health care system to address these people, but we use the criminal justice system.

— We are led and have been led by the politics of fear and anger.

— If you allow yourself to be driven by fear and anger you’ll tolerate things that create imbalance.

— Fear and anger are essential ingredients of injustice.

— Who is responsible for this? We are. We have gotten too distant and uninvolved.

— Proximity is the solution to figuring out the solution.  Bryan’s continual emphasis that proximity is essential to leadership and justice was compelling. 

A difficult conversation on race:

— we are a post genocide society, but our narrative was “they are savages.”

— centuries of slavery. The great evil of USA Slavery was the narrative of racial difference we told to justify it.

— Slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved into terror and violence.

— People of color say, “Why are we only now talking about ‘domestic terrorism’ (talking about 9/11 or Oklahoma City Bombing) when many of us have been subject to domestic terrorism for decades?”

— Germany, South Africa and Rwanda all make sure people know their history and make people have the conversation about their own difficult history. In Berlin, for example, you can’t walk 100 yards without running into a monument or a reminder of a painful and awful history. But in America we don’t talk about slavery, we don’t talk about lynching.  I bear this out. I only learned about Colorado’s deep racist history from two pastors who sat us down to talk about denver riots and Golden’s KKK history. Also, I had the privilege of visiting Germany last year and was struck by how deeply the German people are intentionally “undoing” the sins of the past with their welcome, warmth and openness. It was visceral. 

I’m not interested in talking about this to punish our country for our history, but to liberate us from it.

— Those of us in the church understand that there must be repentance before redemption.

— We must stay hopeful. Hopefulness is essential for effective leadership. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice and effective leadership.

— There are hopeful leaders and there are people in leadership positions not leading.

— Sometimes I go places to speak. Sometimes I go places to listen. What does “listen” mean? It means I don’t say anything. this was profound to me – so often a leader visits a place to share what she or he has to say, but Bryan says a leader also visits to listen and learn. 

— It takes courage to stay hopeful in the face of daunting situations. “That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired. That’s why I need to be brave, brave, brave.”

— We are biologically and psychologically wired to stay comfortable. That means we need to make a decision to be uncomfortable. Effective leadership only happens when great leaders are willing to do uncomfortable things.  PROFOUND! I think Bryan tapped into the essence of walking by faith here and why so few of us habitually do it. 

— Bryan has heart and gut wrenching stories about the people he serves who are incarcerated. His most gut wrenching was the young child who was tried as an adult because he shot his mother’s attacker who was a deputy sheriff and the child’s harrowing and abusive experience in jail. Utter, utter evil.

— Why do we want to kill broken people? What is it about us that when we see brokenness we want to crush it?  My job is to defend broken people against a system that wants to legally kill them.

— We live in a broken system. The people in power are unwilling to get proximate, they are locked in narratives of fear and anger and they have lost hope. Again, another huge statement. 

— I do what I do, not because I am a lawyer, but because I am broken too. It is the broken among us that can teach the way grace works. The broken understand the power of mercy and the power of redemption.

— As leaders we cannot assume that we have qualities that other people don’t have. We must identify with the brokenness of those we lead.

— Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. If someone kills someone, they are not just a killer and a leader sees more than just what they do.

— the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.

Bryan Stevenson is a mind blowingly powerful person and an exceptional speaker. What am I going to do about his challenge? 

 

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