The New Jim Crow

I reserve Sunday evenings at 5 pm for time on the elliptical machine and Bill Moyers. On December 22, he interviewed Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow. This book examines how our nation’s criminal justice system has reinstitutionalized slavery. There are a number of states that promise a minimum of 95% occupancy for their for-profit prisons. Alexander exposes the links between the civil rights movement and the alarming increase of people being imprisoned; a hugely disproportionate number of them being African American.

While this feature of America may not be surprising, the extent that our government strips people of dignity, legal rights and any access to hope for an opportunity to reform and contribute positively to society, did. The facts stun the mind and the heart. While Alexander is acutely intelligent and articulate, her face shines with the kind of hope you seldom see in people so involved with such devastating oppression. How does she keep cynicism clear from the center of her vision? Regardless of the overwhelming injustice she works to correct, she believes that America still has the capacity to lift up the promise of an inalienable right for all people to pursue happiness. Her passion for bringing goodness to all is rooted in the bleak reality of our criminal justice system. Her belief in human potential to do the right thing lifts her from resentment and hostility into a realm of loving kindness. She is a bold model of love.

When we focus our best energy on finding solutions to grave problems we empower ourselves and others. When we forget to honor the inherent worth and dignity of each person no matter how much we might disagree with them we rob ourselves of hope. Our Unitarian Universalist community grows stronger and more vibrant the more we engage in helping to create a world in which everyone is guaranteed their civil rights. Hard work is not enough. One must cultivate a good heart, which does not yield to the kind of power that kills hope. This requires us to believe in the interconnectedness of all people regardless of race, religion, educational or economic level. We must believe in the potential for good in all people and allow love to keep us focused on what is possible. Let us work with a good heart for marriage equality, prison reform, the rights of children, women, senior citizens, all people to be safe from abuse of every kind, every person who needs a path back to hope and the dignity that brings.

May this New Year bring peace and love to all …

Michael

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