Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. By Listening To People Who Are Not Like Us by Cyntoia Brown for The Tennessean
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by BriteHeart | 1.22.19
Cyntoia Brown, in this guest column, expresses her gratitude to Gov. Bill Haslam for granting her clemency and urges people to celebrate MLK's legacy.
- Cyntoia Brown was recently granted clemency by Gov. Bill Haslam. She will be released on Aug. 7.
This is the time of year that we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of freedom for all people.
Dr. King once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
There are no words to describe the joy and relief I felt when I learned of Gov. Bill Haslam’s extraordinary act of mercy in granting me clemency.
In just seven months, I will walk out of prison and get a second chance at life. I cannot properly convey my gratitude to Tennessee's 49th governor, to my legal team and to all those along the way who listened to me and help me tell my story to others.
Cyntoia Brown, an inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women, delivers a commencement address before receiving her associate degree from Lipscomb University on Dec. 18, 2015. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
I believe what matters most is when people begin to listen. That’s how the tide began to turn in the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that is certainly how the tide began to turn for me these past few years.
While there is something to be said of the importance of finding one’s voice, as a society we have more to gain when we lend an ear.
Let us commit to listening
As we celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy, I hope we will all commit to listen more to people who are different from us. I also hope we commit to seek out those who cannot tell their story or who are afraid to talk.
The biggest change in the trajectory of my life, which had seemed so hopeless at one point, began when someone chose to listen to the experience of a 16-year-old girl. It was only from others listening that my second chance was possible.
There is great power in listening to the insights of young people. As you think about the issues facing our society today, I invite you to view them from the lens of our youth with an open ear and mind.
Let us step fully into our roles as stewards of their future and open our minds to the issues as defined by them. The smaller, quiet voices can speak the loudest if we would only listen.
In the weeks and years ahead, when you think of me, I hope you will celebrate not only me and my journey, but America and the beauty of a justice system that has the power to listen and understand redemption, forgiveness, mercy and compassion.
America is a wonderful country because of this. Let us all proudly celebrate it as we honor Dr. King.
Dr. King once said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
My hope is that as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, we will recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice and the importance of truly listening to those whose stories we have the power to affect.
And, I personally hope that begins by really listening to young people, in particular. If we stop and listen, we might just show the young people of today how to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency by Gov. Bill Haslam on Jan. 7, reducing her sentence from 51 years to 15. She will be released Aug. 7. She is working to finish her bachelor's degree through Lipscomb University.
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