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I was a young assistant public defender assigned to the one of the busiest courts in the country, handling pretrial hearings for homicides, robberies, drug dealers, and assaults. The courtroom was always packed with victims, police officers, and the relatives of clients who were sitting next to me in handcuffs.
Part of my job was to address bail so defendants could be released from jail pending trial. Throughout the day, I would call out to a packed courtroom, “Anyone here for John Doe?” When hands went up, I approached them to ask questions about the defendant’s family situation, employment, how much money they had for bail, and anything else the family wanted me to know. During this interview, family would often express regret about the defendant’s predicament, saying such things as “We did not raise him this way,” or “I don’t know why he does these things.”
Over time, these types of interactions started me thinking, “Why is this defendant in the criminal justice system?” My curiosity led to a small change in my interview approach. I started to ask an open-ended question along the lines of, “Do you have any idea as to what caused my client to get caught up in this situation?” I always received the same response: the person would pause, give the question some thought, and then say, “I really don’t know.”
Then one day, I got a very different answer. An elderly man, without any pause whatsoever, instantly declared, “I will tell you exactly why. In high school, I became friends with someone who lived in a different part of town. I visited him in his home, where I saw another way to approach life. That opened up a new way of thinking for me. I saw the life I wanted, and I decided to live that life.”
I stood in stunned silence at the power of this simple statement and began to reflect on the people in my life who helped me see another way. I then thanked God for putting these people in my life and empowering me to overcome obstacles and challenges.
I think this is a helpful way to view our nation’s civil unrest. The black community and its allies are seeking others who will carefully listen to what is true about the kind of life they want to have. They want others to understand and embrace what it takes for life to be better.
This is a special time. Everyone has an opportunity to move beyond protests and begin walking down a path that will transcend injustice. There are challenges along the way to be sure, such as divisive political parties, a divisive media, and riots.
The good news is that every day, we can humble ourselves and pray something along the lines of: “God, help us to rise above our selves. Help us to develop the character, virtues and habits of heart and mind to grasp the good, and then do it.” Of course, some spiritual leaders have been praying this for a long time:
This is my confidence: we don’t have to change the world – God does. And the truth is that God is using this time of civil unrest to build a more just society. So, take courage and then do your part by taking 8 minutes 46 seconds every day to pray, reflect and humbly take a few steps down the path to transcend injustice.
Carefully listen and learn what is true, and then embrace what it takes for life to be better.
This blog was written by guest author, Michael Harper, Esquire. Michael is the Director of Advocacy of the Family Advocacy Center of Voice and Vision, Inc. You can read more about Michael on the Staff page of the Voice and Vision website.
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