We Need To Talk About An Injustice: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

by Terry Heick

TED Talks are great, but in lieu of their site and app and YouTube channel and podcast and erstwhile access, they jumped the shark for me a couple of years ago.

I still keep an eye out for the more authentic ones–those that don’t feel framed artificially as “TED” content, but are rather ideas that have to be shared and stories that have to be told, and don’t feel pumped up full of spectacle.

In that context, I recently saw Bryan Stevenson’s “We Need To Talk About An Injustice,” and was moved to share it because of its authenticity, utility, and ultimately the value its primary message offers teachers.

Keep your eye on the prize, hold on.

Stevenson is an African American human rights lawyer whose profession offers a unique perspective on the way our collective system of laws, education, family, and vocation produce a specific output–in this case, a staggering prison population. 1 out of 3 black men between the ages of 18 and 30 are in jail, prison, probation, or on parole. In certain urban communities, 50-60% of young men of color are in jail or in prison.

His explanation? “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes,” describing a system in which it is better to be “rich and guilty, than poor and innocent.” Using his own experience to explain the power of identity to shape experience, Stevenson wonders how we seem so “comfortable” with these statistics, which is a legitimate question.

I’ll leave you to the work of extracting content-related themes out of the video. (The part about legally trying poor, black men as rich, white men is worth a Socractic Seminar or two.) But more immediately for educators, the message to “keep your eyes on the prize,” an iconic phrase with roots in the American civil rights movement in the 1950s with origins in Paintsville, Kentucky, offers a simple but powerful handle for each one of us.

In the presence of so much pressure, change, and teacher fatigue educators need encouragement as well, not just that “they can do it,” but there is a singular goal for educators. There can be one thing you look to, focus on, and use to galvanize your work. This “thing” should be different for every teacher, as an “education” means something different to every student.

This can’t be standardized, and should be deeply personal to each one of us. When things seem insurmountable, put your head down, grit your teeth, and work towards that prize, whatever it is for you.

This is something you can’t let go of.