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Woman Prays Her Way Through Injustice

Bryan Stephenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of an organization that tries to help those unjustly convicted of crimes, was trying to free a man who was clearly innocent. About a dozen people had seen him when he allegedly committed the crime, but none of those people were allowed in the courtroom because they were African-Americans. So Stephenson complained to the judge, who reluctantly allowed Stephenson to admit a few of these eyewitnesses.

One older black woman named Mrs. Williams was chosen to represent this group. But there was another big problem: a huge German shepherd stood guard outside the courtroom. When Mrs. Williams, who was deathly afraid of dogs, saw the dog she froze and then her body began to shake. Tears started running down her face before she turned around and ran out of the courtroom.

Later she said, "Mr. Stevenson, I feel so badly, I let you down today. I was meant to be in that courtroom. I should have been in that courtroom." And she started to cry, and I couldn't console her. She said, "I wanted to be in there so bad. But when I saw that dog all I could think about was Selma, Alabama 1965. I remember how they beat us, and I remember the dogs. I wanted to move and I tried to move but I just couldn't do it." And she walked away with tears running down her face.

The next day her sister told Stevenson that Mrs. Williams didn't eat or talk to anybody all night. They just heard her praying all night long the same prayer: "Lord, I can't be scared of no dog. Lord, I can't be scared of no dog." The next morning she walked up to Stevenson and said, "I ain't scared of no dog. I ain't scared of no dog" and then she walked right past that huge German shepherd into the courtroom.

The courtroom was packed when the judge walked in and everybody rose and sat down—except Mrs. Williams. She told the entire courtroom in a loud, firm voice: "I'm here!" But Stevenson said, "What she was saying wasn't that she was physically present. She was saying, I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black, but I am here because I got a vision of justice that compels me to stand up to injustice. And that was when the tide for the case turned.

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