Public Library Association conference planners planned for inspiration for today's opening session by booking Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization working for reform of courts and prisons. They hoped for some of the magic of his famous TED talk. He was nearly as good, telling some of the same stories and addressing some of the same issues today.
Like many previous conference speakers, Stevenson began by thanking librarians for their role in his education, crediting their advocacy of service for people of all races for helping him in his career and with his mission. He also praised us for fostering and conserving viewpoints that differ from our dominate culture. The library may be the only place to find some out-of-the-mainstream ideas.
He asked four things of librarians. His illustrating stories featured criminal justice issues, but librarians will know issues of their own.
Maintain our proximity. By being local we know and can help our communities. Too much of what is decided in our nation comes from far away and often makes no sense. Sentencing laws in particular are remote from the situations to which they are applied.
Change the narrative. Too often the status quo is maintained. Things have to be the way they are because they are the way they are. We operate from fear instead of creativity. We need to imagine new ways and outcomes. Here he talked about the injustice of charging children as adults and about terrorism against blacks being a long-running American tradition, not just an aspect of life after 9/11.
Commit to being hopeful even when situations are most hopeless. Here he told a story about a bigot with an incredible change of heart.
Commit to doing the uncomfortable intentionally. Nothing will change unless risks are taken, such as those taken by civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s.
He told the same Rosa Parks story that you can hear on the TED talk. He also said that he discovered that he works with broken people because he is broken, too. Aren't we all.