It's a little counter-intuitive, but I've found that by engaging in the struggle (beyond holiday party conversations and social media interactions) for social justice and racial equity, I've had better conversations about these things with White people. I realize that mass incarceration is just one aspect of racism, but it's the one that gets me off the chair, and inspires me to do something.

That relationship between personal engagement and better conversations about race is a little abstract, I know. So, let me give an example. For the last 5 or 6 months, I've been working with some friends/fellow volunteers on the Parole Preparation Project (link below). We've been partnered with a person who is incarcerated in the NY State carceral system. So when I talk to friends and family, I'm not just railing about the overall injustice (predominantly, but not always racial) of mass incarceration. I'm not talking about the insanity of keeping people locked up long past the time when they're likely to commit a serious crimee (statistically, I'm more likely--as a 58 year old White male--to commit a serious crime than someone who's survived a life sentence).

I'm talking about my friend, someone who had a horrific childhood, who was hopelessly damaged by this world we've created, and yet who's managed to repair himself, get a college degree while locked up, and who has reached back to help others in their studies and to coach youth in their journeys.

This is not some abstraction, this is a person, a human being. We're locking up people and forgetting them, but this is not what civilized societies do.

My point is not that I'm doing anything extraordinary in particular. But if we so choose, we can stand on the shoulders of giants, like Michelle Lewin (Parole Prep's founder) or Bryan Stephenson (who started the Equal Justice Initiative). In every community, there are networks of incredible people who are willing to teach us, and we can bring that knowledge to the world.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/12/02/prepping-for-parole

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Ken Festa

Ken Festa

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