By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Monday, October 3, civil rights author Tim Wise spoke to students and community members in the Gadsden City High School Auditorium. The event was the last of this year’s Gadsden Reads programs.
The Gadsden Public Library kicked off the Gadsden Reads program on August 1. The assigned book was Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, who visited Gadsden to discuss the issues addressed in the book. These issues include racism, mental health reform and other inequalities and injustices in our society, particularly in the criminal justice system.
As part of the program, the library has held a book discussion, a historical lecture on the 1906 lynching of Bunk Richardson and a panel on the displacement homes and businesses of the 6th Street community for redevelopment. These programs have allowed the community to address and look into why and how these injustices happen.
Wise was invited to speak as part of the Gadsden Reads program because his books, including White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son and Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, make excellent companions to Just Mercy.
Gadsden Public Library Director Amanda Jackson was particulrly excited for the Gadsden Reads programs to reach the community’s teenagers. Jackson said that she wants the children to think, “What am I going to do for my community?”
Wise began his speech by apologizing “on behalf of the country” because the country “lied to you.”
“We said as a country a long, long time ago that we are a place that believed in liberty and justice for all, but we didn’t really mean it,” said Wise. “Here we are, however many generations later, and we have handed you an incredible mess.”
He then talking about taking responsibility for problems that you did not create.
“It will be young people, as it has always been young people, that will ultimately make the difference,” said Wise.
He said that while the inequalities facing minorities were not young people’s fault, it is their burden to fix it.
“If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done,” said Wise.
Wise said that it is important to be honest about the problems facing us as a society, whether it is faulty political reasoning or ineffective and racially motivated criminal justice practices. He mentioned examples of these inequalities, including high incarceration rates for the poor and minorities, even though studies show white people are just as likely to commit crimes.
After he spoke, Wise accepted questions from the crowd.