In addition to sharing their personal story at the All-Community Reads, Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton advocated for reforms of the criminal justice system. “Exonerations are not the criminal justice system getting it right,” said Jennifer. “It’s a miracle and we shouldn’t rely on a miracle to get it right.”

She continued about how the criminal justice system was created and designed to protect white, land-owning males and how it makes us uncomfortable that we have never done anything different to a system that was designed to be racist.

“We have to get uncomfortable first to acknowledge it before we can change it,” she said. “ I appreciate the fact that you’re struggling with it and want to have the hard conversation.”

It reminded me of the work being done in the child welfare arena where people are also having the uncomfortable conversations about the role of race, the impact of trauma caused by the current system and the need to change an entire system that has been embedded in our culture for decades.

We often avoid uncomfortable conversations because, well, they make us uncomfortable. It’s easier to ignore the topic, only scratch the surface or make light of the root causes. But to truly create the change we need to address that which is hardest to discuss.

Aim not for comfort, but instead seek to create an environment where people can be what Alia describes as “safe but uncomfortable”. Make your culture civil, respectful and open – so that discomfort can be put on the table and deliberated, not so it can be hidden away.

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