Google.org recently pledged to double its $1 million contribution to further support the innovative social justice and community engagement work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).
Based in Montgomery, Ala. EJI, in partnership with the tech powerhouse, has debuted a digitized version of its 80-page report, Lynching in America, that documents over 4,000 lynchings that took place in the Deep South. Those brutal attacks on African-Americans occurred between 1867 and 1950. The web component is a fraction of the nonprofit organization’s larger mission to combat mass incarceration and excessive punishment that commonly affects people of color.
“There’s a lot of ignorance about the history of racial inequality that we have in this country,” says EJI founder and executive director Bryan Stevenson via Google Hangout. “I don’t think we’re going to make the kind of progress we want to make until we are able to put these issues in a broader, historical context.”
EJI, which was founded in 1989, has curated an interactive, user-friendly platform that combines audio essays, photo galleries, a detailed curriculum for schoolchildren and color-coded data visualization maps of lynchings and the Great Migration. A six-minute documentary, Uprooted, chronicles a family’s return to its Southern roots in Shreveport, La. for the first time in a century to investigate the death of their grandfather lynched for supposedly passing notes to a white woman.
Seeking to cure a generational curse, EJI spent five years traveling to small communities to conduct interviews, research and aggregate data on various injustices affecting blacks. Stevenson, both a veteran criminal justice lawyer and the best-selling author behind Just Mercy, had always noticed a correlation between Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the modern day prison-industrial complex.
Stevenson believes improving race relations and criminal justice reform starts by rectifying America’s amnesia regarding racial disparities. “We have to make this history visible,” says the MacArthur Genius Fellow. “There’s a lot to learn and a lot to discover. Bringing those stories to life is the challenge we face. We’re really just scratching the surface.”
Google.org’s original $1 million gift will go towards building a history museum, From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, that will open in 2018. A memorial with six-foot columns will list all of the lynched victims and sit on six acres of land. Focusing its corporate social responsibility efforts on ending racial injustice, in 2015, the tech innovator originally created a $5 million commitment to support organizations and startups close to its Silicon Valley headquarters like Center for Police Equity, My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper and Beyond12.
The definitive search engine wanted to take action in the wake of the Charleston, S.C. church shootings. Google‘s internal Black Googler Network conducted a Day of Solidarity to pay respects to several unarmed black men and women wrongfully murdered at the hands of law enforcement.
Following a conference call shortly after Google started the fund, Stevenson was invited to speak before Google executives about EJI’s disruptive work. The NYU law professor’s presentation left quite an impression on the company culture. “He really lit a fire under a lot of us at Google to give more and to take this more seriously,” says Justin Steele, principal, Google.org’s U.S. Giving,
EJI is Google.org’s first national benefactor. It’s an ideal partnership for both entities to repurpose the information highlighting racial disparities. “We really try to do more than just give money when we’re investing our brand,” continues Steele, a former intern with the NAACP chapter in his hometown of Seattle. “Google’s mission is to organize a world of information that makes it universally acceptable and useful.”
Stevenson agrees: “We documented all of this in our report and had the great privilege of connecting with the folks at Google, who wanted to find a way to present this data and these stories in a digital format that provides access to millions more people.”
Google.org has donated over $100 million in global support to nonprofits, Of that figure, Steele’s team has committed $20 million of that towards criminal justice reform. Google’s involvement has even inspired Steele to become more introspective regarding his ethnic origins.
“Like many African-American families, my lineage is clouded in mystery,” says Steele, tracing his roots back to Raeford, N.C. “I didn’t get taught this information in my public school education. The conversations I had with my grandfather before he passed didn’t reveal a ton. There’s clearly a lot of hurt, suffering and pain in those conversations. It wasn’t really something the family opened up and talked a lot about.”
Stevenson and Steele share aspirations to change the course of history and fuel productive citizenship for all people. Lynching in America debuts to the public on June 13. Google believes the partnership is a good business move because it exemplifies how the company listens closely to communities in which they thrive and serve.
“Bryan never asked us for money,” says Steele. “He doesn’t solicit. It was an opportunity for him to tell us what role we could play in advancing racial justice in this country.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also visiting faculty in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.
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