Blessed Are The StoryTellers

10/09/2017 02:05 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2017

It is perfectly reasonable to wonder why and how philanthropic organizations decide to fund issues and causes on which they land. After all, there is an over-abundance of worthy causes, from Autism to Zika Virus and everything in between. At our foundation, we rely on a fairly simple formula. We engage community leaders about their perspectives on community health, and examine where the science and research are in support of their voice.

When community voice and the best available data match up, we do our best to jump in on funding support with both feet. This explains our deep involvement on issues of health coverage for all, school health policies, and healthy community development and land use issues.

In recent years, spurred on by leaders in stressed California neighborhoods, our health foundation added the issue of criminal justice reform to our list of funding priorities. Community wisdom and policy analysts agree: our nation’s prison pipeline and justice system are badly in need of re-thinking and reform. This represents the rare issue upon which many Republicans and Democrats agree.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience what the “storytellers” have to say about this issue, in the form of a newly running theatre production in downtown Los Angeles called “Time Alone”.

I’m no theatre critic, but my three-letter review for this production: O.M.G.

Time Alone features actress Tonya Pinkins and actor Alex Hernandez in a piece written by Alessandro Camon. I’ll minimize the spoilers, but the basic story line is centered upon two characters, an African-American crime victim whose life is tortured and consumed by the murder of her police officer son; and a Latino solitary confinement inmate who is related to the murderer. Through some manner of cosmic destiny, the two characters connect.

Both actors delivered performances that were equally authentic, gripping, compelling, and raw. Tonya Pinkins’ character powerfully confronts every off-the-shelf sympathy argument from the liberal left about criminal justice reform, while Fernandez’ character persuasively affirms why our nation’s punishment-driven justice system is, quite simply, broken beyond repair. A river of tears flowed from the theatre audience when these two storytellers finally connect. The standing ovation for both actors was heartfelt, sustained, and richly deserved.

Time Alone is our nation’s compelling reminder that -- as a civilized, democratic society – we must act to reform our justice system. We must emphasize prevention over punishment, books over bars, schools over prisons, and mental health and substance abuse treatment over solitary confinement. We must completely overhaul the practice of juvenile incarceration as we know it. Bail reform is badly needed to correct a system that financially handcuffs low-income communities. Sentencing practices disproportionately impact black and brown Americans. Employment practices discriminate against those who have accountably paid their debt to society.

In short, we have much work to do. Time Alone reminds us that we don’t have much time to fix it. And a debt of gratitude to these storytellers for making the case plainly and clearly.

Belle Reve Theatre Company’s production of “Time Alone” runs through Oct. 29 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.

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