Bryan Stevenson [ Bias Networks ] — The United States is a very different country that it was 30 years ago. In 1970, we had a prison population of 200,000 and today we have a prison population of 2.3 Million. The United States now has the largest prison population in the world. 1 in 6 male Latino babies and 1 in 3 male Black babies, born in this country, is expected to go to jail. That wasn’t true in the 20th century. That became true in the 21st century.
I believe that, whether we are talking about over-incarceration and the criminal justice system, or we’re talking about the environment, or we are talking about gender equality, rights, religious or sexual minorities, I believe that there are a few things that we have to think about if we are really going to change the world, if we are really going to confront injustice.
And the first is Proximity.
I’m persuaded that we can’t make a difference in the world if we stay distant from the things we care about.
I’m a big believer in Proximity.
If you want to make a difference, in challenging the problems we see around income inequality, you’ve got to get closer to poor and marginalized communities.
If you want to make a difference in education policy, you’ve got to spend time in schools where there are many tensions and challenges.
If you want to do something about racial inequality, you have actually got to get closer to the communities that have been marginalized and burdened by this history and legacy.
Proximity, I am persuaded, changes us. It makes us see things that we can’t see from a distance. We hear things up close that we can’t hear from a distance, and that nuance will deepen our ability to make a difference.
We have to get closer to help the people we are trying to help.
The United States is the only country in the world that condemns children to die in prison. We have some 3,000 kids in this country who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Some of them are as young as 13. There are 250,000 people serving long prison sentences for crimes they were accused of when they were children. There are 10,000 kids, on any given day, being housed in jails and prisons that are proximate to adults where they face a great risk of sexual abuse. This phenomenon was out there, but I didn’t understand it until I got Proximate.
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Proximity will empower you to challenge things that have to be challenged. It will cause you to see things that need to be seen and do things that need to be done.
I am persuaded that if we are serious about creating greater justice, we each have to get Proximate.
PHOTO CREDIT: Annie Leibovitz, for Desmond Tutu’s article on Bryan Stevenson for Vanity Fair.
See also: Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk, We Need to Talk About an Injustice. 5 March 2012.