“I’ve seen a huge capacity for redemption from people… if given a chance.” That’s Thelton Henderson, a renowned civil rights lawyer and judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in conversation with Savala Trepczynski in a new podcast series, Be the Change.
Be the Change is created and hosted by Trepczynski, the executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at Berkeley Law. The series highlights people who Trepcyznski says “embody, and therefore model, a progressive and subversively compassionate way of being a human being.”
In one of the podcast’s first interviews, Henderson recalls his work in the civil rights movement, when he spent time with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama, at the A.G. Gaston Motel, one of the only public places in the country where African-Americans could stay the night. He shares a moment when he saw a different side of King.
“We all know him. That voice — the way he can inspire you… But I saw another side of him that showed me how hard his task really was,” he tells Trepczynski. “He had a big press conference coming up — press from all over the country was there… We were in his room. He was in his undershirt, and he was dead tired… and finally, Andy Young came into the room and said, ‘Okay, Mike’ — he called him Mike — ‘It’s time to go.’ He sort of pulled himself up, went into the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face, put on a shirt. Then he went out there and became the Martin Luther King — the one you always see… Just an incredibly brave man with the leadership that I wish we had today that I think is missing.”
“He was irreplaceable and yet, he was a human being,” says Trepczynski. “In a way, it means none of us are allowed to simply opt out because we don’t think that we’re exceptional enough to complete the task ahead of us.”
Trepczynski, who graduated from Berkeley Law in 2011, says as director, she’s guided by the incredible work of Judge Henderson. “I want the Henderson Center to help every single Berkeley Law student to develop their conviction that social justice is an integral part of the law, and that the law is an integral part of social justice.”
In another interview, Trepcyznski talks with Berkeley Law professor Melissa Murray, who served as the school’s interim dean during the past year after the previous dean was accused of sexual harassment and resigned.
“What have you learned about how to get a community through a crisis, intact?” asks Trepcyznski.
“I think there’s a real generosity of spirit required,” Murray says. “I didn’t always agree with everything I heard… but I think people felt like I was listening, and that I heard them.”
On being a leader, she says it’s important to her that she can back up her decisions. “You make a decision, but then you have to rationalize it, and sell it, and make sure you’re persuasive. And you have to be persuaded that what you’re doing is the right thing.”
Be the Change will next feature an interview with new Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who left UC Irvine to begin his five-year term on July 1. During the episode, he’ll touch on the role that tikkun olam — the Jewish idea of healing the broken world — plays in his life, and what would happen if he could take a red pen to the Constitution and make a few changes.
The series is produced by Lacy Roberts, an alumna of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in collaboration with the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute, a division of the Graduate School of Journalism.
Learn more about the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice.
Listen to Be the Change.