This blog post from Fr. William Barry, SJ, is a reflection on Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, written by Bryan Stevenson. Ignatian Volunteers across the country are reading and reflecting in community on this book this year. This piece is written on Chapter Two: Stand and Chapter Three: Trials and Tribulations
Near the end of The New Jim Crow, which covers some of the same ground as our book, Michelle Alexander writes that a change of laws will do only so much to ameliorate the lives of African Americans. What we need, she says, is a change of heart. All of us have to come to care about what is happening to our African American brothers and sisters, especially the poorest among them. Reading and prayerfully reflecting on Just Mercy is one way to change hearts. As you have read these chapters, haven’t you begun to care more about what is happening to so many of our African American brothers and sisters caught up in our so-called justice system? His description of his own run-in with the Atlanta police gives us a visceral sense of what it’s like for African-American men, especially young men, in our cities.
Have you ever heard African Americans talk about having “the talk” with their teenage sons? It’s not a talk about sex. It’s about how to act around the police, especially if you are stopped for anything on the street or in your car. It’s not the kind of “talk” any White parents have to have with their teenage sons, is it? Within the past year our news media have been inundated by stories of police shootings of African American men. One of them was video recorded by the man’s girlfriend. Apparently he had done all that he had learned in “the talk,” yet when he reached for his wallet to get his license, the officer shot him fearing that he was reaching for a gun. A few months later a white mother of an adopted African American son told me of calling him after this incident to warn him to keep his license and other identifying papers on the dashboard when he was driving. He said that he had been doing this for some time. When we listen to such stories, we get some sense of what our Black brothers and sisters are dealing with. We begin to care more about their lives. As more and more of our fellow citizens have similar experiences and grow in such care the racial bias that is buried deeply in all of us will be transformed. This is grace in action. This is what can happen during our volunteer work in IVC, if we remain open to it.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, Contemplatives in Action, and A Friendship like No Other. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.