Category Archives: Bryan Stevenson

Healing our story architecturally

“Buildings are not simply expressive sculptures. They make visible our personal and collective aspirations as a society. Great architecture gives us hope. Great architecture can heal.”
-Michael Murphy
 
A few weeks ago I wrote about Bryan Stevenson. This week, Julia told me I had to watch an amazing TED talk she saw by Michael Murphy. It was about architecture that is built to heal.  Michael Murphy has done incredible work around the world. In Rwanda, not only did Michael design a hospital that would prevent unnecessary infections, promote healing, and lift patient’s morale, he was wise enough to work and learn from Bruce Nizeye. Bruce, a local engineer, taught him about Ubudehe, a practice and culture where the community works collectively to support one another and solve problems. Hundreds came out to excavate the site with hand tools.  Bruce started a guild where master craftsmen trained locals to make the furniture.  Fifteen years after the Rwandan genocide, Bruce advised Michael to hire workers from all backgrounds, half of them women.  This process initiated a healing for the community while the hospital was being built
This process is called Locally Fabricated or Lo-Fab and it’s four pillars are:
Hire Locally
Source Regionally
Train where you can
Invest, focus on how to bring dignity to the people that the building will serve.
Michael Murphy
A Lo-Fab hospital in Haiti saves lives from Cholera, a birthing center in Malawi seriously reduces the maternal and infant mortality rate.
Back here in the States, Michael saw that Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative were planning on building a memorial to those who were lynched in the South. Michael asked if he could design it.  The collaboration will be a moving open structure, reminding one of the Parthenon until you get close and realize that the columns are pillars hanging, suspended above the ground like so many were from public town squares.  The names of those who were unjustly taken will be inscribed on these pillars. In a field outside the building, there will be duplicate pillars waiting for each county where lynching took place to claim and display them. This is not to shame these counties but as Michael said, it will allow the nation to, “heal from over a century of silence.”  Michael also pointed out that countries like Germany, South Africa and Rwanda have built memorials to commemorate their atrocities in order to mend their wounded psyches.  America has yet to build this kind of memorial.
Memorial to Peace and Justice
Brene Brown says in her book Rising Strong, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
This applies to us in America.  When we look at our story, we were farmers who fought the most powerful army in the world to create the first nation without a king or emperor. We created a Republic for the people by the people and during the Second World War we made the world safe for democracy. The shadow part of our story that we have yet to reckon with is slavery, bigotry, the genocide and subjugation of Native Americans, institutional misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and too many other phobias.  Because we are unwilling to rumble with this shadow, it sadly becomes necessary to have an organization in 2016 called Black Lives Matter. 
This is the Land of the brave.  If we are set on “Making America Great…” let us love ourselves in the process of owning our story head on.  Not through posturing, pride and insulting one another but through recognizing that we have people like Michael Murphy, Bryan Stevenson, Brene Brown and countless others who are not only resources but are cheering us on toward our real greatness.  Namely, standing for up for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.  Equality and harmony are what make us strong.
The third part of Brene Brown’s Rising Strong process is called The Revolution, “where we own our truth in order to write a new, more courageous ending which will transform who we are and how we engage with the world.”
Rising Strong
That is a modern revolution worth having.
As more of us are willing to do this kind of work on ourselves, connections and links are made to build, not a wall, but a structure that brings dignity to the people it serves. That is something we need now more than ever.

The Equal Justice Get Down

“I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” – Bryan Stevenson

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On Labor Day, Julia and I had a gig that was cancelled. We considered ourselves fortunate to be able to sit outside and catch up on back issues of The New Yorker.  One of the articles was about Bryan Stevenson.  What caught my eye was that Bryan was helping to build a national lynching memorial museum called the Memorial to Peace and Justice.  Bryan is a lawyer from Delaware who moved down to Alabama without family, friends or any support.  Recognizing the correlation between the lynching mentality that was established in the South and the mass incarceration and excessive use of the death penalty for citizens of color, Bryan founded the Equal Justice Initiative .  This organization guarantees legal representation to each of Alabama’s death row inmates. Bryan points out in his TED talk that the US is the only country in the world that will jail children for life.  Some of Bryan’s clients are thirteen and fourteen years old.  He believes that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law.” Bryan’s desire to build the museum in Montgomery, Alabama is to challenge each county where lynching took place to own up to it. This is not to shame them but to urge them to acknowledge the wound so that it can begin to heal.

memorial-memory-bank-3_0national-lynching-memorial-2_1

Later in the day, Julia and I binged through the rest of season one of Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down. This, highly addictive and amazing show, was a natural extension to reading about the Equal Justice Initiative.  Set in the South Bronx in 1977, The Get Down shows how racism and poverty create a boiling pot of crime that is a necropolis for many but which cannot extinguish the creative spirit that must express itself.  With hues of a superhero genre, the show emphasizes that the real success that is achieved stems from love, friendship and the synchronicity of bonded effort across community lines.

The show illustrates how we have demonized creativity that arises out of poverty such as graphitti and hip-hop.  One of hip hop’s pioneers, Grand Master Flash is a character on the show. When interviewed he said that Hip hop’s message was simple, “We matter. We stand for something.”  His character on the show instructs a talented aspiring DJ who is slipping into graft, “It’s about music. It will move you forward and open up doors that everybody says are shut. It will give you the whole world for free if you just hold back nothing. Ah… do you hear that? It’s life and destiny, that is the Get Down!”

The-Get-Down

“We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, marginalization. And for me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. And for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor, the disadvantaged…thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives.”- Bryan Stevenson

There are those who inspire tirelessly and selflessly like Bryan.  They are superheroes.  They are here to reflect the spark in the rest of us. For me, there is a difference between identifying ourselves as victims and committing in whatever way we can to being the expression of love that helps us rise up to a greater freedom within and without. Thank you for what you do and who you are.  You are that expression.