An innocent question changed my career. In 2000, I arranged a tour of a juvenile court and youth detention center in Oakland, California for a group of Eastern European youth-justice professionals.
An innocent question changed my career. In 2000, I arranged a tour of a juvenile court and youth detention center in Oakland, California for a group of Eastern European youth-justice professionals. After observing court, one visitor asked, “now that we have seen the Black court, when do we see the white court?” That question confronted me with a truth that we as American’s have largely chosen to ignore. For half a century we have acquiesced to “tough on crime” political slogans that touch emotions but are ill-informed and discriminatory. The U.S. has become the world’s largest jailer, and foreign observers wonder if we have returned to segregation. Jim Crow has returned, and that should be unacceptable to us all. I was raised in three segregated southern states during the era of American apartheid. I saw firsthand the toll that state-sanctioned inhumanity takes on everyone. I found the notion unacceptable and noxious that that one’s immutable characteristics were determinative of societal privileges and immunities. The ideals of justice and equity were alive in the hearts and souls of people that put themselves in harm’s way. They sought, against all odds, to live in a society where the fundamental principles of human rights and dignity were available regardless of status or circumstance. John Adam’s said that “power always believes it has a great soul.” The powerful often justify why they should be accorded more than others. I do what I do because every life has epic significance, and we must all do our part to assure that the “great souls” in power are always held to account.