Western Church is co-sponsoring James Forman talking about his book Locking Up Our Own next Thursday, May 17, and I could not be prouder.
When Sherry Trafford first told me that she might be able to talk him into coming back to D.C., particularly if Forman knew about our connection with the Free Minds Write Night, the idea seemed great. His work describes the context in which African-Americans helped shape a system in the District that incarcerated increasing numbers of other African-Americans, and thus overlaps with many of our church’s own commitments.
That was before Forman won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction this past year. It was also before I’d read the book myself.
Well-researched and beautifully told, whether out of Forman’s experience as a D.C. public defender or his gift for lifting up significant data and historical decisions, Locking Up Our Own is a powerful read. Addressing a range of offenses from drug possession to violent crime, the book builds a case for who and how the criminal justice system should serve in black communities. As a reader, I found myself rooting for all of those involved – victims, perpetrators, judges, and politicians – which is a tribute to Forman’s writing. I can imagine God taking a similar perspective, seeing the larger contexts that shape decisions and systems, but finding an author who helps all of us see this way is rare.
The stories and the perspectives they bring challenge us all as readers, no matter what our spheres of influence, to figure out how we might make a difference in our inherited system of mass incarceration. Western’s Mission Ministry Team answered the challenge by making sure the Free Minds Book Club folks have copies of this book to share with those who are incarcerated.
We all know there’s plenty more to be done. I hope you will join me and other members of the Mission Ministry Team on Thursday to hear more from James Forman in the talk hosted by the NYU Brennan Center for Justice. Even more, read the book and find someone to share it with, not just because it’s winning prizes, but because Forman teaches us all how to see our city and justice system with compassion and justice.
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