Finding Common Humanity


Are you proud of the work you do?

I am pretty certain the most fulfilling moment of my professional life was about 9:30 pm on Friday, January 10th, 2020.

Location: AMC Theater at North DeKalb Mall after the viewing of Just Mercy on opening night. It is the movie about the work of Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He is a death penalty attorney who has overturned 135 death row convictions and the founder of  the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., both dedicated to the legacy of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration in the U.S.

Compassionate Atlanta hosted this event to support the Remembrance Projects for both Dekalb and Fulton counties to bring back the monuments from the National Memorial. We bought out a movie theater for opening night. The first theater sat 142 seats and we were concerned that we may not fill up the theater so soon after the holidays and so early in the new year. We had people buy seats at any amount they wanted, and we would donate all the proceeds to the Remembrance Projects.

Phew! We sold out of seats immediately!

So, we expanded to the 177-seat theater since some of the people actually working on the project in Dekalb County did not get their seats!

O boy!

That sold out in exactly less than 2 hours or something equally ridiculous.

So, we did the only compassionate thing: We expanded the theater to 244 seats!

Leanne and I were sitting at an amazing three-day meeting on the “Epidemiology of Compassion and Love” more to come on that soon.  In the meantime, It took so much effort to deal with all those logistics and all via text message to a truly wonderful person to work with – Gunawork, our behind the scenes guru. She single handedly made all this happen.

My word – it felt like we were negotiating world peace just to deal with all the details and we were so happy and excited to be part of something big.

I have never been to a movie theater, with overpriced popcorn and sodas and all, where I felt I was watching a movie with family! Representatives Becky Evans and Dar’shun Kendrick were in the audience as well as Judge Vincent C. Crawford, the chief judge of the Dekalb County Juvenile court. Most of all, we were a community of people committed to, not just Compassionate Atlanta and what we do in the world, but to the grand themes of racial justice, changing systems that do not work, and the liberation of oppressed people. Eureka! I found my tribe!

I was proud.

After the movie, leadership from both Remembrance projects spoke, as well as Denitra Isler, an actor who starred in the movie.

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson, the attorney featured in the movie, in my first year of seminary when a professor played his famous TED talk as part of a classroom reflection. Not only did I fall in love with his persona (separate from the fact that he is among the handsomest of men in my opinion), I knew his work was critical to understanding the full scope of racial injustice and its impact in the criminal court system.

Why do I tell you all this, you might ask? To brag that we did something successful? No, not at all.

It is to highlight that my pride in that moment had to do with the fact that I sensed our common humanity in that theater. We all were the lawyer who could not make sense of this system. We all were the wife who knew she was with her husband when he was accused of being somewhere else. We all were the son in the movie who wanted his voice to be heard. We all were the guard with the change of heart. We all were each of the men on death row featured.

We all were.

Recognition of our common humanity is a key component of compassion and it has an incredible ripple effect. It allows us to see and sense our own reflection in the suffering of another sacred being.

This week, on MLK day, I listened to Bryan Stevenson’s NPR interview and I perceived him in a new light. Again.

The compassion for the sanctity of human life drives his work. In his book, Just Mercy, he writes about his own personal resonance with the brokenness of his clients. He says, “We are all broken.” His understanding of our common humanity is what resonated with everyone in that movie theater. It was an amazing ripple effect and made us feel a sense of Oneness, a sense of community. The pride I felt with our work at Compassionate Atlanta was because we had the opportunity to put our energy and resources behind this simple concept of “our common humanity.”

How are you living your life in a way that creates opportunities for those around you to enter into greater awareness of our common humanity? Does your work feed and nourish our common humanity? What can you do different that will allow for the viral effect of compassion?

Your acts of compassion matter. We know it is real, although we do not have metrics to measure it. Yet.

Warm hugs from very cold Atlanta,

Iyabo Onipede
Compassion Cultivator/Co-Director
Compassionate Atlanta

P.S. One of our partners for the event was the center for Love and Light and they are having the event below on Racial Healing with Author Anneliese A. Singh. Join us for this important work that will give you tools that will help deepen your experience of “common humanity.”

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