Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who spends most of his time in jails, prisons, on death row or in low-income communities, shares some hard truths about America's criminal justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of young black men between the ages of 18 and 30 has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Bryan urges the TED audience to think about our identity as a nation. When we don't think or care about the poor, we diminish the positive in our lives. In too many countries, the opposite of poverty is not wealth - the opposite of poverty is justice.

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  • Sean

    the unseen

  • Joe Antesocialisto

    What inspired you about this video? I agree 100% that our current 'punishment' philosophy does nothing for no one. Mr. Stevenson... good talk!

  • Joe Antesocialisto

    What is justice? Is justice stealing from people or having the government to do your stealing for you? If people would stop preaching this idea of victimization and started showing people the positive aspects of living in a free country, we might have a few less people in prison due to recidivism. Is justice creating reliance on an authoritarian government? Such a state of affairs is what has helped to create a deluge of laws that criminalize all manner of behavior and increase the likelihood of imprisonment. If you really think about the poor and care about the poor you will increase the positive in their lives by showing them how to succeed - which is not accumulating wealth for wealth's sake, but accumulating wealth for freedom. The opposite of poverty is independence, freedom, opportunity, knowledge, self-reliance, hope and the power of the individual over their own lives. All of these things add up to actual power. If power must be 'borrowed' it is not justice at all. Why are low-income communities such? Is there some oppression that forces someone to remain in such a community? How is it that some people avoid being 'trapped'? Could there be a change of belief systems and economic systems that removes the honey from the fly trap? Is it justice to treat people like rats by making them grateful for the cheese you use to trap them? Is it a wonder if people no longer feel like active participants, as if they have no stake in a society? Is it justice to perpetuate this feeling generationally? Is that what a caring person does? I see here (and elsewhere) the constant refrains of 'equality, equality, equality'. Equality of what? Equal justice is certainly to be strived for. As a lawyer, if Mr. Stevenson can find a case where a particular person has been treated actually unequal before the law, then by all means I am for their release from prison. If the problem is not that these disproportionate numbers come about through DIRECT racism and prejudice but that the problem has come about by a more insidious and INDIRECT means. By constantly indoctrinating the people in low-income communities (not just blacks, but other generationally-impoverished whites as well) various communist/socialist concepts that exploit their greatest fears and prejudices, is it a wonder that poverty becomes generational? The opposite of poverty is knowledge. The opposite of poverty is courage. The real injustice, the real status quo is, and has been for a long time, that the world has created the injustice and so the world must do something about the injustice. This country has made great strides in overcoming the failures of old worlds. Opportunity, the opposite of poverty, exists. Charmaine Johnson makes a good point that education is the key, but I would add that with that education should come a willingness to reject so much of what is propagated, to ignore the status quo entirely, not fit into the pre-established role of 'young black men between the ages of 18 and 30' who are more likely to end up in jail, prison, death row. What is propagated? That 'the system' is set up to make you fail. It seems so, sometimes, I suppose. Most of the walls of any tyranny are illusory, however. The entire nation would benefit if an entirely new way of looking at the world came about by people in low-income communities. The personal successes of a more competitive low-income community will be shared by an overall increase in the standard of living for all Americans. That success won't come from increasing the wage of the burger flipper, but by creating more opportunities for a person to own their own franchises. Certainly, education would play a part. A cultural change would have to come about as well. How can someone succeed if their community is angered and fearful of their success? Many whites are afraid of the competition; it is counter-intuitive, but such a change toward innovative, ambitious minorities in low-income communities as opposed to oppressed and self-oppressed minorities who rely on government scraps, crime or (yes) injustice can only create a better nation overall. I mentioned self-oppression... and I admittedly speak as an outsider... at least from a racial standpoint, but one who is attempting to speak to the humanity of my fellow man, not as a white man speaking to black people, but simply one person speaking to my countrymen. As I see it, many members of low-income communities are afraid of losing their entire identity if they were to actually find a way out of poverty - and find that the means of escape were in their grasp from the beginning. Poverty is the 'devil I know', in other words. To escape injustice, you might have to try new ways of dealing with the world. Mr. Stevenson has found some means to success (lawyer), but to some extent seems to be preaching more of status quo ideas as to where the injustice stems, as if it is habitual. Learn what you can from him, but don't be afraid to listen to people with completely different perspectives as well. That's just a thought. I'll just take my invisible backpack and go home now. http://rapgenius.com/The-notorious-big-mo-money-mo-problems-lyrics

  • Eugene

    Bryan's commitment to justice and desire to share the truths he's learned with others who maybe never have had to face or been able to acknowledge. Most Americans admit the horrors of slavery but either don't know or think it's somehow "un-American" speak of the terrible years of the Jim Crow era in our country. If we acknowledge that truth then we take a giant step toward understanding race relations in this country today. Then maybe we can work together to build a future community we can be proud of. As he said, the opposite of poverty is justice...doesn't every American citizen have the right to justice?

  • Jamie

    To keep being brave and continue to approach injustices with optimism despite my intermittent inner thoughts of skepticism.Everything that Mr. Stevenson has spoken about answered my childhood question and confirmed my belief: Q: Why is it poor people in this world and why don't "they" help them. B: If everyone could work no one will have to steal or kill to get money and then there will not be any jealousy or hatred. My grandmother said, "To me you have too many questions that can't be answered and too many opinions that can't be spoken to loud so, hush child". From this I've learned that our morality and outlook on life is instilled in us not just from our extended family but from our personal experiences and very importantly our stance in society. So, I ask, where do you stand?

  • Jan

    "You tell people this isn't the first time we've dealt with terror in America." So true - how easily we forget, we diminish the experience of others, we don't want to remember, to acknowledge our American history of horrors that continue today. I LOVE that you wrote & submitted that brief! Shine on! Shine on!

  • Jerry

    His concern for humanity for Justice inspired me! Baha'u'llah said: "Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations."

  • Jean

    The calmness of the speaker. His deeply spiritual presence and purpose driven life. He is the best of American and I think he is part of a new coalition of leadership in this country that is emerging and will bring us together is amazing ways.

  • Charles Adjei Acquah

    "The opposite of poverty is justice" is well said. Our generation has lost sight of our history and therefore lost our identity. We have allowed the so called modernity to cloud what is most important-the value of our humanity. We spend so much only on things that really don't matter at the expense of what really is-justice and fairness, compassion and love-the very reason we are different from other creatures in this world. All of us need to rethink and reshape our values!Thanks so much Mr Stephenson and thanks to your grandmom and the values she put in you!

  • Charmaine Robinson

    WOW! Thanks for making it so plain and I appreciate your dedication. I hope that your movitation speaking will filter in our communities. My heart goes out to our black men especially the young who haven't realized that the prison system is designed to incarcerated us. It's the modern day way of ensalving our black men. I was watching television last week and saw that San Mateo got approve for funding of 16 millon dollars to build a new jail. . Let's look at the statement, "Follow the money" Calfornia would be spending 1 Billion $$$'s on the death penalty. Just think who do you think this is being built for. Let's try to educate our black males, rather it's our Dads, Uncles, Brothers, Cousin are neighbors. We need to stop this generational cruse on our black males because it is destroying the black family.

  • Mary Ann Gokee

    Mr. Stephenson ~ How inspiring your message...you walk with Jesus. Thank God for you!

  • Cheryl

    Your are a brilliant gentleman Mr Stephenson, you have what we in America are missing and that is PRIDE, we need someone out there with power to bring back PRIDE to America. I went and took my dog to the park tho morning for a walk as I always do. In the children's playground was cups, empty bottles, plates etc, oh yes, might I not forget condoms, in the children's playground. How are they going to learn PRIDE and respect for this world, if their parents cannot teach them that the garbage is 20 feet away, just walk over and put your trash in the garbage, it has to start with the parents and they do nothing. Later in the morning I go for a bike ride and stop at a gas station, go to the restroom and the sink has been torn, I ask the gentleman at the desk "what happened" he said, "vandalism". Again, where is the PRIDE and respect for not only themselves but for their fellow human beings and the earth that we live on. Without that we are going to be like Rome and fall into decay. WE GET BACK FROM THE UNIVERSE WHAT WE PUT OUT TO IT.

  • Jane Burns

    This video actually brought me to tears. Having grown up in the South, and still in the South, witnessing the racism that is still rampant, I hope that he does "indeed hold on"! I am humbled by all that he does and the folks at the Soithern Poveryy Law Centeras well. My fervent desire is that someday we won't need tou here Bryan, but "hold on" there will always be something else. Bless you!

  • Pat Carlyle

    Bryan Stevenson articulately speaks about something that has driven me since I was a little girl. I studied the criminal justice system and planned to be the first female federal prison warden in the United States. But when I actually was in the system, I decided I wasn't strong enough to fight what I decided was broken. That was in the 70's! I love what he says about being brave and courageous. What I can do right now is make certain our neighbors have the right to vote and are registered to vote.

  • Duane St. John

    Bryan Stevenson is an example of the need for real education to be improved and expanded to all children. Uneducated citizens are the bane of democracy and the costs are incalculable. Thank you Bryan for an amazing and heartfelt presentation. The Supreme Court should hear you or better yet have you on the bench.

  • Shirley Marsh

    I have often been overwhelmed by the injustice in our world; by the focus on ever increasing our wealth without ever giving a thought to those who have nothing. This man has voiced everything I have believed since I was a child. And the positive outcome of social media and the Internet is that we can all connect and voice our concerns and bring about change through people power. Bryan Stevenson is a wonderful human being who gives eloquent voice to those concerns. A world with extreme wealth and extreme poverty; with extreme injustice; with emotional detachment from our fellow human beings, is a world permanently at war. People like Bryan Stevenson are powerful forces for change.

  • Denine R.

    I truly appreciate Mr. Bryan Stevenson for this incredible speech. Thank you so much for your speech. Please let us know how we can help you with your cause! May God continue to bless you and strengthen you for this time of battle. You are truly a strong brother. Again thank you so much!!

  • Elaine

    This well articulated discourse demonstrates for me the need for all men to learn who they really are. In doing so, the injustices of this world will go away. The we and us will go away and we will treat each other as self.

  • Adele C. Schiller

    Really made me think of the power of identity in new ways...very moving...informative...beautifully articulated! I shared on FB. Thanks!

  • maria

    Every gesture towards Justice makes a difference. Thank you Bryan for waking up the people in that matter.

  • bilkis

    bryan is so right, there is so much injustice in this world, everywhere you find people at the lower rung of the ladder do not get justice, might is rihgt in this world, we need more people all over the world to stand up for the rights of minorities and others who suffer because of the lacunae in the judicial system.

  • catherine

    The courage to go the entire journey to give life and identity

  • Namtip

    Stevenson knows his stuff and is so convinced of his own vision. He presented his facts and his posiition in a balanced and compasionate manner and engaged his audience with his sincere commitment to justice for the poor. It's powerful and empowering at the same time. And he speaks beautifully. I am both inspired and encouraged that there may be hope for the poor.

  • Ted Coombs

    That was powerful! I loved how this man works in and with the shadow of our incarceration system but find hope and strength to move us towards our humanity. Thank you Bryan Stevenson, thank you.

  • Karen foley

    Thoughtful and profound..

  • Matthias Miti

    Very inspiring! Today Justice is seems to be for the stronger, the powerful, the wealthy! Brian's call and understanding of Justice is simple, universal, timely and urgent and must be shared widely. Many of us tend to focus on personal aggrindisement,survival needs and forget our absolute vocation to visions of humanity namely fairness, inclusion, happiness, reconciliation, justice and community. The world's imense resources must be shared equitably and used to foster these values! One renowned African Writer, John S. Mbiti mentions the same of the African values when he says' I am because we are and we are because I am. I absolutely agree with Brian that Justice is not synonymous with wealth as held by many folks including the perceived elites. Capability rather than wealth and race should shape the outcomes in this post-modern era. It is true "each one of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done! We must be prepared to do the right thing, even when we have to choose and make HARD DECISIONS. Let everyone stand up for true essence of life! Have concern for the neighbour irrespective of their tribe,race,colour,education and socio-economic status etc.

  • Mattthias Miti

    Very inspiring! Justice is for the stronger, the powerful, the wealth! Brian's call to justice is simple, universal, timely and urgent and must be shared widely in whatever case may be. Many of us tend to focus on personal aggrindisement,survival needs and forget our absolute vocation to visions of humanity namely fairness, inclusion, happiness, reconciliation, justice and community. One renowned African Writer, John S. Mbiti mentions the same of the African values when he said,' I am because we are and we are because I am. I absolutely agree with that Justice is not synonymous with wealth as held by many folks including the perceived elites. Wealth and race should rather than capability should not shape the outcomes within this post-modern era. It is true "each one of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done! We must be prepared to do the right thing, caustiously even when we have to choose and make HARD DECISIONS. Let everyone stand up for true essence of life!

  • Page 1

  •  Bryan Stevenson is founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Learn more about their work on behalf of the indigent, the wrongly convicted, and those confronted with bias and discrimination..
  •  View more TED Talks on the subject of crime and rehabilitation in prisons.
  •  Reflect on one of the simple truths Bryan Stevenson has learned in his work: "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." 

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