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Forgive Everyone Co.

As I’ve grown in my journey in the fight for social justice, it has been difficult for me to forgive the shames of my own past. Today, I am passionate about pushing ideals of racial equality, gender equality, criminal justice reform, etc. forward. But this was not always the case. Just eight short years ago, in my freshman year of high school, I began a slow descent into alt-right and supremacist ideologies online. I attempted to fix my insecurity, lack of confidence, and isolation that stemmed from years of bullying by finding an identity and a community that accepted me simply because of my maleness and my whiteness. While I was never directly outspoken about my views to friends and family, I descended into dangerous ideologies; fed twisted views in an echo chamber of alt-right commentaries and propaganda. 

Through friendship he was able to shatter the walls I had built.

When I came to attend Calvin College, I met an individual who knew bits and pieces of my views, and even while he was deeply offended by them, he chose to forgive and to love me, rather than hate me. I was a young white man, actively consuming alt-right media, and he, a young black man my same age, decided to forgive and pursue friendship with me. Through friendship he was able to shatter the walls I had built around myself that prevented me from seeing anyone outside of my own ideologies as fully human. He changed my life in a very real way. 

Because of this experience, I fight for the least forgiven population in the United States: the formerly incarcerated. Anyone can see their past mistakes with a simple background check; and effectively every employer and landlord does. I learned that we incarcerate more people per capita in the U.S.A than any other nation on earth.  In addition to this, I learned that roughly 600,000 of these men and women return to society each year. The society they enter can be described with one word: unforgiving. 

We too often lose hope in the possibility of growth.

It is obvious that shame and isolation are not working to change patterns and reduce crime. It is primarily this lack of forgiveness that results in ~79% of individuals released from prison returning within 6 years.

As activists and advocates, we often allow our hatred and condemnation of injustice to bleed into a hatred and condemnation of the humans perpetuating that injustice. We too often lose hope in the possibility of growth, transformation, and change. If we lose sight of the belief that oppressors and perpetrators of injustice can in fact change, we are doomed to push individuals perpetuating dangerous beliefs into isolation which can lead to radicalization. 

This fight is not easy. It is easy to ‘grow weary’ or get burnt out when you dedicate yourself to fighting for social good and social equity. None of us are immune to this tiredness. But in the darkest of hours, nothing is more important than an undying vision of and hope in the future. 

I surround myself with meaningful community

What I find to be most helpful in pursuing activism is to surround myself with meaningful community. The form it takes in my life, is a small group meeting that I host once per week with four friends. We each discuss brokenness that we have witnessed and in tandem share beautiful stories of hope, of things we said to others that “worked” and that provided new perspectives, of radical hypotheses of what the world can look like if true radical love, forgiveness, and justice are applied equally. 

In the world’s darkest moments, the single most important thing we can do is cling to the light which is an undying sense of hope and a vision of what the future could hold; a vision so strong that we are willing to get up every day and pursue it. A gospel we are willing to sacrifice everything for. And most importantly, a vision others can join us in. Because we can’t do this alone.

I believe we can create a society where everyone steps up

So what is my vision of the future? In the future, I believe we can create a society where everyone steps up to help anyone who has fallen on hard times, where there exists an undying sense that “we are all in this together”, where failures of individuals are seen as failures of the community, and unwavering support is offered to everyone, regardless of past records of wrong. 

This has led me to start an organization called Forgive Everyone Co. It is a brand that was created to showcase the full humanity of individuals coming out of prison in the United States. I’ve never been incarcerated, nor have I had any family members who have been incarcerated. But this organization helps me to focus on participating in loving, forgiving activism that uncompromisingly hates any form of injustice, yet radically loves and is invested in the transformation and reconciliation of the individuals perpetuating the very injustice we hate. None of us can single handedly dismantle the systems in place that perpetuate the evils of racism, sexism, and violence. But each one of us has a choice in how we participate in advocacy and activism work.

Don't miss the other blogs in this series 'Growing Weary of Doing Good.'  

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