The Engaging People Series continues this month with political social change activist, Bonnie Kerness. Bonnie has been fighting injustice and trying to even the playing field for people of color for over 50 years. I was first introduced to Bonnie's work about five years ago when a young Monmouth University student couldn't stop talking about her and the American Friends Service Committee's Prison Watch Project.
I am amazed at how passionate and tirelessly she works to help put an end to solitary confinement, torture and the prison system as we know it. Outspoken and often radical, Bonnie learned from the best in Tenessee at the Highlander School during the civil rights era where Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks also learned civil rights strategies and labor organizing.
Bonnie has made an impact on the most difficult issues; helping other like-minded activists who found themselves in prison due to the color of their skin and political beliefs, "My generation of activists often found themselves in United States prisons and it was a generation that was forced into a kind of political consciousness when we were very young," she says.
An expert on prison torture, Bonnie does the work few want to think or talk about, "I believe the prison system was born out of slavery and gave way to what we have today which is completely racially determined."
Although she works with people of all ages, it's the youth stories that touches her to the core. Bonnie listens and documents the stories of people in prison and when she finds inequality, lies, indifference and intolerance she confronts them head-on, fighting injustice where and when she sees it—speaking truth to power.
Bonnie is a keen reminder that these are American problems, and as citizens we are responsible for solving them no matter how complex or unpleasant they seem. "I made myself a promise and I decided to keep that promise, whether or not I had children, whether or not I had to do food shopping, no matter what else, that was a focus," Bonnie told me. She also passes on her knowledge and support to others interested in being active and engaged in solving social justice issues.
If a majority of Americans could have only 25% of Bonnie's commitment to make change, in whatever area they felt needed it—I believe we would have a more just and fair society.