It was a bittersweet week of contrasts. First, there was the funeral of my ex-husband, Murray Schneps, father of my four children; and then, days later, I traveled to Baltimore to witness the impressive graduation of my grandson, Zach, from Johns Hopkins University.
Both life-changing experiences were inspirational in different ways.
For more than four decades I’ve known the irreverent, inspiring, brilliant writer/raconteur/actor Malachy McCourt. His stepdaughter, Nina, and my daughter, Lara, were at Willowbrook State School when budget cuts caused us to fight a war for our children’s rights and care.
Malachy used his voice, and Murray used his legal power and perseverance to fight fearlessly for our children.
At Murray’s funeral service on May 22, Malachy recalled the decades of debates and action he and Murray shared, persevering and never wavering in their pursuit of justice.
A few days later, I was in Baltimore to celebrate Zach Broner and his brilliant years at Johns Hopkins. What tied the two events together was the commencement speaker, Bryan Stevenson, a human rights attorney and social justice activist who urged the more 1,400 graduates to fight for the rights of those vulnerable people in our world.
With passion, speaking for 20 minutes without notes, Stevenson’s inspirational words brought the entire audience in the arena to their feet with a standing ovation that went on for many minutes.
During his speech, Stevenson pressed his point on the elite group of graduates — who, based on their names, had come from around the globe to attend this prestigious institution. He urged each of them to follow their passion, be persistent, show up and never feel comfortable with the status quo of injustice.
He was speaking to the best and brightest of their generation, and spared no fury speaking of the cruelty of the prison system now holding millions of people, mostly of color. He spoke of the cruelty of our country centuries ago wiping out the Native Americans and stealing their property and their lives.
Stevenson pounded the air with his fists about the murders of innocent African-Americans, from slavery to the present day. He boldly warned every person of color graduating to know they will not be treated like white people.
He implored every student to stay angry and uncomfortable with injustice — and also to make a difference with their lives.
He inspired us all as we stood again to applaud his words.
My Zach, who graduated on top of his class, will be going to NYU Law School — and will be lucky enough to have Stevenson as one of his inspiring teachers.
Zach can make a difference just as Murray made a difference. I know that the world is a better place because of both of them.