This resource draws on experiences in the lives of James Lawson and Anne Braden, who, when faced with injustice, found powerful alternative paths away from violence. In the clips that we’ll discuss, Lawson’s and Braden’s experiences gave them new perspectives on their own identities and deepest beliefs. The activity helps us see how transformative those kinds of moments can be in our own lives and in the lives of countless others whom we might encounter later.

  1. Understanding the impact of creating a compassionate alternative, “a better way” in the face of violence and injustice.
  2. Examining the risks and resources associated with acting in unexpected ways and challenging the status quo.
  3. Envisioning strategies for helping themselves and others to respond creatively and nonviolently to injustice.
  1. Jim Lawson clip “Mother’s Path to a Better Way
  2. Anne Braden clip “The Whole Traitor Thing
  3. Paper and pens or pencils for writing
  4. Crayons or markers
  1. Begin by explaining that this session will build upon the introductions from the previous session, and will help each of us consider various ways to respond in the face of injustice. Ask each participant to find a comfortable spot in the room — at a desk or table, or on the floor if there is an accomodating space there — take a few minutes to think about the following question and then to either write or draw a brief response.
  2. Consider a time early in your life when you were personally confronted with some form of injustice, however large or small, that affected you directly and which you responded to in ways you now wish you had not. What was the context? What did you do? Write or draw how you responded at the time—the words you used, the feelings you experienced, what happened afterward.
  3. Have people gather in groups of 2 or 3 to talk about what they drew or wrote. In the small groups, ask each participant to consider how the event affected other aspects of their life. How does it relate to other events before and after it? Was it a pivotal moment? Does it blend into part of a pattern?
  4. Make sure each person in the small group or pair has time to share—3-5 minutes each.
  5. When each person has had a chance to talk, gather the larger group again. Ask anyone who wants to share some of their experience with the whole group. How often were those moments life-changing? How often did they connect with future patterns?
  6. Introduce the clip from Jim Lawson. Explain that he will be describing a pivotal moment in his own life, and as a group we’ll talk about what made the event significant.
  7. Play Jim Lawson’s video clip called “Mother’s Path to a Better Way“.
  8. Ask the group to describe Lawson’s response to the white child, and then his mother’s response to his choice. Was Lawson justified in his action? What impact does his mother’s question about finding “a better way” have on him? How does this episode help form a larger pattern in Lawson’s life?
  9. As the discussion of Lawson’s experience develops, it might be useful to highlight the fact that Lawson’s mother was an important force in helping him look for “a better way.” Consider posing a question to the group like “But what if we do not have anyone in our life who encourages us the way Jim Lawson’s mother encouraged him? What sources can we draw on to resist the turn to violence?”
  10. To follow this question, introduce the group to Anne Braden and explain that one of her first experiences as a young activist was going with a delegation of white women to Mississippi to talk to the governor of the state about the injustice of lynching black men who were falsely accused of rape. Show “The Whole Traitor Thing” clip from her interview. Ask the group to think about Braden’s experience of “being on the other side” when she was jailed for speaking out against lynching. Why was the policeman surprised that Anne was protesting the lynching? Anne’s experience shows that it is sometimes difficult to choose “a better way” if it seems you have to go against your society in order to do so. Where might the strength to make that choice anyway come from? How important is it to have allies and supporters when you are making difficult choices?
  11. Ask the participants to end the session by forming groups of 3 or 4 and discuss ways in which Lawson’s and Braden’s stories could apply to their own lives. Who are the models in their own lives who help them find better ways? What gives them courage to stand against injustice even when it puts them “on the other side”? Ask one person to act as a recorder and write down the ideas that the group comes up with.
  12. Bring eveyone back together and ask each small group to contribute 1-2 strategies for “finding a better way” to a general group list. Proceed around the room until each group has shared, and let any group add additional ideas later that were not included at first.