Editor’s Note: As part of LinkedIn’s inDay Speaker Series, we were honored to have Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative speak to us about justice for all. We invited Peter Fortenbaugh, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, to share some highlights.
What is the opposite of poverty? Justice, according to Bryan Stevenson who spoke at LinkedIn as part of their inDay Speaker Series. I, along with 20 of my colleagues from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP), were thrilled to be invited by LinkedIn to attend. At BGCP, our mission is to provide hope and opportunity to at-risk youth in our community so Bryan’s message of “justice for all” left us inspired and more committed than ever to our work. Here were some of the highlights for our team.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that Bryan’s visit was the Friday prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President Obama’s inauguration, but it felt like more. The combination of these three events reinforced how far we have come as a country and how much more there is to do until we achieve our shared vision of justice for all.
Bryan Stevenson grew up humbly in Alabama, earned his law degree from Harvard University, and is a professor at New York University’s Law School. He founded and now runs the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.
Bryan began by talking about the power of identity. He shared a personal story about how his grandma shaped his identity when he was a child. She told him he could be anything he wanted to be and made him promise he would never drink alcohol. Bryan still has not had a single drop of alcohol, but not drinking isn’t what makes him a better person; what matters is keeping his promise to his grandma and that shapes who he is today. And that’s the power of identity.
He then described some of the challenges he sees in America today. He painted a portrait of oppression through the years made worse by recent policies based on fear and anger. While Bryan painted a bleak picture at times, he used colored paint. He is an optimist, and in all of his stories he had a solution. He truly believes in the human spirit and the potential of every person to thrive. He specifically believes in the power of Silicon Valley and LinkedIn to imagine and create a better world, to invent solutions that we never knew were possible.
For my colleagues at BGCP and me, Bryan’s commitment and passion for a better society were inspiring. We share his vision for justice for everyone. Like him, we’ve dedicated our careers to helping others less fortunate. While he manifests his vision through the legal system, we manifest it by providing hope and opportunity to the at-risk youth in our community. Hearing him articulate our shared values was energizing for all of us.
In his inauguration speech, President Obama said, “Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of [the Declaration of Independence] with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing.” This is why Bryan and my colleagues, like Dr. King before us, go to work every day.
Hear Bryan talk about injustice in his TED Talk which received the longest and loudest standing ovation in the history of TED. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has also described this talk as “the most effective and inspirational talk I’ve ever seen in person”. I encourage you to take 20 minutes out of your day to be inspired.