Last year, Reverend Dr. William Barber II delivered the commencement address at Eastern Correctional Facility. This week he wrote words of encouragement to the incarcerated BPI community during this time of crisis, which was included in this week’s newsletter to students and reproduced below.
Highlights from his 2017 commencement address at Eastern can be seen here:
To our family behind bars,
I’m writing to you from my home in Wayne County, North Carolina, where just down the road we have had once of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 inside a prison. Each day as I pray for those souls locked behind bars, I think of you. This disease is like a contrast dye, exposing the inequalities in our society. When we look at maps of who is contracting this disease and dying from it, we see the same counties and neighborhoods where the poorest people in America live. Many of those are the communities where you grew up. Many of them are areas where you live now.
How can we live with hope in the face of such injustice? This is a question you are better suited to answer than most Americans. When I came to you last year, I had just lost my only brother to pancreatic cancer. The way you welcomed me and the strength you showed in persevering despite prison to receive a high-quality education helped to liberate my soul from the despair I was experiencing. I marveled at the stories of how you had overcome in the face of so much. I will never forget the gift of life I received from my visit with you in lockdown.
Now, as we face a shared challenge that nevertheless weighs unequally on some, I pray you will find courage to persevere in your studies. And I pray this nation will be willing to learn from you what is necessary to revive the heart and soul of our democracy. Remember, no cell can incarcerate your soul. No prison can take away the power of your mind’s possibilities.
God bless each of you,
Reverend Dr. William Barber II