Introductions: Bryan Stevenson & The Elaine Wetteraurer Writing Contest Winners
On March 28, lauded social justice lawyer and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, captivated a sold-out Benaroya Hall with his lessons in the “power of proximity” and hope. SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey introduced Bryan as part of SAL’s 2016/17 Literary Arts Series.
This event also celebrated the winners of SAL’s annual Elaine Wetteraurer Writing Contest. Every year, Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools (WITS) program holds the contest to celebrate the wisdom, creativity and heart captured in student poetry. The contest is open to students grades K-12 who attend WITS partner schools. This year, in honor of Bryan Stevenson’s incredible advocacy, students were encouraged to explore the themes of “Justice” and “Mercy.” The names of the winners and their work are included below.
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
Toward the end of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson cites former Czech leader Vaclav Havel about the one thing that is essential: hope. “The kind of hope,” Stevenson expands, “that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.”
Bryan Stevenson has dedicated his life to making concrete both this type of witness and this type of hope. For more than three decades he has witnessed the horrors of our criminal justice system and the ways it disproportionately incarcerates and executes people of color and people who are poor, while also working tirelessly for hope and change. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which has won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. His numerous honors include a MacArthur Genius Award, the National Medal of Liberty from the ACLU and being named the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year. His beautiful book, Just Mercy, was a New York Times bestseller, was named one of the 10 best books of 2014 by Time and won the Carnegie Medal and an NAACP Image Award.
Just Mercy tells the story of Stevenson’s work representing prisoners sentenced to death. The book is anchored with the haunting and maddening story of Walter McMillan, while also exposing our legacy of violence – from slavery to lynching to the death penalty to convict leasing – that plays out in our prison system.
To me, the greatest gift of Bryan Stevenson’s writing is that it illuminates not only the atrocities of our criminal justice system as an extension of the atrocities of slavery, but that it also makes this personal. For each of us. For all of us. And reminds us that our shared humanity is profoundly damaged by such injustice.
In one of my favorite passages, Stevenson writes, “We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.” There is no greater benediction for our shared humanity. Stevenson’s writing and thinking and work embrace the brokenness in Walter McMillan and Joe Sullivan and Jimmy Dill and himself and you and me and the system that carries out such injustices in all of our names. And through this compassion he cracks open possibilities for redemption and transformation.
Please join me in welcoming a man brave enough to crack open our nation’s shame, humble enough to claim his own brokenness, and brilliant and intrepid enough to imagine and fight for a luminous way forward, Bryan Stevenson.
The Elaine Wetteraurer Writing Contest Winners
Our first-place winner this year is Sidni Janette, who attends Broadview Thomson K-8 School. Our second-place finalists are Basho Kimura, who attends Leschi Elementary School, and Katrina Davis, who attends TOPS K-8 School. Congratulations to these incredible young writers!
First Place Contest Winner: Sidni Janette
Mercy, forgiveness for the crime
Mercy, your hands bound by a burning rope and let go
Mercy, one more chance to set things right
Mercy, iron bars unlocked
Mercy, the electric chair’s cord unplugged
Mercy, helping the needy
Mercy, orange uniform put away
Mercy, one more life saved
Mercy, scratches on chamber doors erased from our memory
Mercy, god thinking twice
Mercy, sacrifices for those who need them more
By Sidni Janette
Broadview Thomson K-8 School, 6th grade
WITS Writer, Daemond Arrindell
Finalists: Basho Kimura and Katrina Davis
If I were Homeless
if I were homeless
would somebody have mercy
would this be justice
By Basho Kimura
Leschi Elementary, 4th Grade
WITS Writer, Jeanine Walker
Every bite of a cookie is filled with knowledge.
The sugar you breathe in fills you with light-headedness.
You wear a long Palestinian dress and sit on the sacred steps.
As powdered sugar falls from your lips
you sit in front of this desecrated city.
You know no medical bandage could tape it back together,
and as the wind obscures your vision
raindrops like nuts fall from unconditioned air,
dropping disturbances faster than you can snap.
Reading your book, in your own world,
planting your feet in this demolished city, no dimensions
to see, only worlds of fantasy and powdered sugar.
By Katrina Davis
TOPS K-8 School, 6th grade
WITS Writer, Laura Gamache