“I felt a great disturbance in the Force as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”
Perhaps Michelle Alexander, the highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, author, advocate, and legal scholar knows the feeling expressed by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope. Despite her groundbreaking work, and bipartisan so-called support for criminal justice reform, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness may justifiably feel like she’s spinning her wheels.
“As a lawyer, it comes naturally for me to speak only when I’ve done all my research, know all the facts, and can make my case,” Alexander revealed in a post on Facebook. “Law, policy and advocacy have been my world for more than 20 years, and my singular passion for 10 of those years has been finding ways to awaken people to the racial dimensions of mass incarceration and help them see it for the human rights nightmare that it is.”
The disturbance in the force may be the apparent lack of action by elected officials to address the system that continues to produce a police force so simultaneously emboldened and spooked by the War on Drugs that it can’t stop killing unarmed civilians.
“I now feel compelled to change course,” Alexander conceded. “I am walking away from the law. I’ve resigned my position as a law professor at Ohio State University, and I’ve decided to teach and study at a seminary.”
This decision is not to be taken lightly, given the history of groups like the NAACP successfully fighting for civil and human rights on the judicial front, and given the current and immediate past heads of the federal justice department being Black.
“I was not raised in a church. And I have generally found more questions than answers in my own religious or spiritual pursuits,” Alexander professed. “But I also know there is something much greater at stake in justice work than we often acknowledge.”
The prolific attorney is apparently hoping a deeper awareness of universal law will be a major key in the push for criminal justice reform.
“I no longer believe we can ‘win’ justice simply by filing lawsuits, flexing our political muscles or boosting voter turnout,” wrote Alexander. “Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will remain forever trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed and the hunger for power…This is not simply a legal problem, or a political problem, or a policy problem. At its core, America’s journey from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration raises profound moral and spiritual questions about who we are, individually and collectively, who we aim to become, and what we are willing to do now.”
Alexander, a Vanderbilt University and Stanford Law School alum, has chosen to redirect her journey to an institution that boldly purports to be the place where faith and scholarship meet to re-imagine the work of justice, and to be where students come to change the world.
“I am going to a place that takes very seriously the moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions of justice work: Union Theological Seminary,” concluded Alexander. “Union has a proud history of deep commitment to social justice, and I am happy to call it home for a while.”
Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, announced Alexander will engage in directed study in consultation with Union faculty.
“I am enormously excited and proud that Michelle Alexander is coming to Union,” said Jones. “I look forward to Michelle having the opportunity to further study faith traditions and their relationship to social justice. The entire Union community will benefit from her eloquent and steadfast commitment to stimulating profound national moral and social change grounded in diverse faith and religious traditions.”