Many of you are familiar with the powerful story of Bryan Stevenson and all he has achieved as a groundbreaking champion for justice. Relentlessly challenging bias and inequalities in the criminal justice system, he has helped spare dozens from the death penalty while also successfully advocating for those most abused by the system — especially children.
Having read much about his work in his book, “Just Mercy,” I was inspired anew by his Guilford College Bryan Series presentations this week. Especially poignant were his stories highlighting what he calls “power in proximity.” His first visit to death row as a wide-eyed law student was a life-defining moment in realizing he must always be fully present in the harsh realities of the clients and causes he represents. As he asserts, “If we want to create a just community, we need to get closer to those living in the margins.”
That’s precisely what I believe we are called to do at Guilford College. The pursuit of justice as one of our seven core values takes many forms. One of the most rewarding initiatives we have is the higher education in prison program we introduced in 2014.
Working with the N.C. Department of Correction, we have the unique opportunity to bring liberal arts education to incarcerated men and women in three facilities. Each week, program co-founder Barbara Lawrence and her colleagues Michael Dutch and Stephen Hill, among others, bring the Guilford College classroom experience to dozens of incarcerated individuals. Among the program distinctions is the fact we are the only college in the country preparing incarcerated individuals for the LEED Green Associate exam.
Especially heartening to me is that the program came to life largely because of the fervent convictions of Tiffany Kallam Bullard ’12 — inspired by her participation in Barbara’s popular course on race and criminal justice during her days as a Guilford College student. Deeply troubled by the injustices found in mass incarceration, she approached Barbara after the course and told her, “We have to take Guilford College to the prisons, and I want to work on that.” So they went to work together, and two years later the program was born.
It’s yet another reminder of the incredible impact our students are committed to making. As Bryan Stevenson shared this week with our students, “Your capacity to change lives is not determined by your grades or your salary.”