‘Just Mercy’: A Conversation About Mental Health & Social InJustice

This weekend I joined the many of you who attended the viewing of the movie Just Mercy. This film tells the real-life story of Attorney/Legal and Social Justice Activist, Bryan Stevenson who heads up the Equal Justice Initiative in an effort to defend those wrongly condemned or not afforded proper representation. One of his first landmark cases is that of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) who is sentenced to die (death penalty without benefit of proper trial hearing) in 1987 of an 18 year old white female despite the evidence to the contrary.
 
In addition to the film’s amazing portrayal of the narrative of the story of a black man’s experience with injustice and the impact on his family and his community, the phenomenal acting of Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and other less well known, yet superbly talented actors and actresses, and a well written story line (hey…I’m not a movie critic but I enjoyed the movie), what stood out and gave me pause, was a quote at the end of the movie during the credits. Ok, trigger warning. In case you left when you thought the movie was over, the end shared real time footage, photos and images of the people portrayed in the movie with quotes narrated of Bryan Stevenson. The quote is:
 
My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
 
I have rarely reflected upon (or even paid attention to the credits from a movie, ha!) a quote so deeply and profoundly as I did this. What grabbed my attention? How did this quote/statement have such profound meaning for me?
 
My husband and I sat for a few minutes after the movie was completely over and I repeated the quote to him and commented, “that’s powerful; I get it!”
 
Here is where this went for me. Often we have thought money is the answer to our problems. Yet still problems remain in impoverished, underserved, oppressed and marginalized communities-even when a few dollars are poured into the community. Why? Because resource allocation is inequitable and the needs of those who need it most are misaligned and mismanaged by those who hold the power and privilege to determine where and how the money is allocated. And that if services (resources) were fair and just and equal, communities wouldn’t need government assistance. Communities could use the resources that are poured into the community to build and sustain their needs like privileged groups.
 
With poor and inadequate access to mental health, medical resources and education, we suffer the following experiences:
 
1. Black Maternal Health & Mortality: health disparities and discrimination; fights over reproductive justice rights; devaluation of the Black woman’s body; higher infertility rates with less access to quality care. The CDC reports that in the US the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for Black won en is 3-4x higher than those of white women.
2. Poorly Trained Mental Health Crisis Workers: count the deaths of the mentally ill at the hands of poorly trained officers
3. Inadequate Access to Quality Medical and Mental Health Services: Provider discrimination, bias and stereotyping ; structural racism
4. Under-Employed & Unemployed
5. Homelessness and/or Substandard Housing
6. Workplace Discrimination
7. Poor School Environmental Conditions, i.e. lead and asbestos
8. Escalating Missing Black Girls and Women
9. Food/Nutrition: the corner store verses farmer’s market and organic markets
10.Uninsured/Underinsured HealthCare
 
This is just the short list. I’m sure you could add 5 to 10 more to the list.
 
What I hope you will take away from my longer than usual blog is that all of these experiences impact our mental health and well being and that with access to fair and equitable resources we wouldn’t need justice and legal aide to fight for what is given to privileged communities.
 
Thank you Attorney Stevenson for expanding my understanding in advocating against social INjustice in the search for collective healing!

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