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UW-Madison Director of Community Relations Everett Mitchell discusses social injustice at community talk

UW-Madison Community Relations Director Everett Mitchell gave a talk connecting the UW-Madison campus Go Big Read book "Just Mercy" and Dane County.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

UW-Madison Director of Community Relations Rev. Everett Mitchell held a talk with community members at the Unitarian Society of Madison Monday evening to discuss a variety of social justice issues, including racial profiling, mass incarceration and poverty.

Mitchell, who graduated from UW-Madison’s Law School with a Juris Doctorate, started the talk by analyzing a series of Martin Luther King Jr. quotes and applying them to cases of racial injustice throughout the country.

Specifically, he called for a re-examination of race relations and systemic racism, stating that many of King’s principles are “just as relevant today as they were in 1968.”

He also noted that simply acknowledging the problem of racism yet refraining from direct action does nothing to further the cause of social justice.

“Goodwill without concrete action allows for the status quo to continue,” he said, “and goodwill placed in motion within communities is the pulse that generates justice.”

Mitchell then went on to tie in current race relations to the local level, specifically highlighting this year's UW-Madison Go Big Read selection “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.

The book is a nonfiction novel recounting the author’s experiences as a young lawyer who interned with a defense committee for those wronged by the criminal justice system. Stevenson later founded his own nonprofit to fight wrongful convictions.

Comparing his time as a state prosecutor to the stories in “Just Mercy,” Mitchell gave an anecdote about a misleading police statement that indirectly incriminated an accused drunk driver. He then stated that it is a prosecutor's job to deliver justice, not win—an idea he said is often lost at the expense of racial minorities and the poor.

He also stressed the disproportionate amount of underrepresented and often falsely accused people behind bars as a result of systemic racism, which often intersects with those in poverty, according to Mitchell.

“In my experience, the [criminal justice] system is full of low income, undereducated and underrepresented men and women of color who are fighting to prove their innocence rather than being assumed innocent,” he said.

Moving forward, Mitchell said the best way to combat social and racial injustice is to spread awareness of systemic racism and to always show kindness and understanding to others.

“There’s something special in investing in a way that makes it possible for us to see the humanity in all of us. Sometimes all we need is the courage to make it happen,” he said.

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