Building empathy by looking through your neighbor's lens

Sherrill Roland uses his experience of being wrongfully incarcerated is upending prejudices and creating a safe space for his community.

This blog was written as part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Black Lives Matter program initiative. Learn  more about the program and corresponding events here.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Engage 2020 Art and Activism series offers a glimpse into present-day artists who have shared their talents, and even lives, to create social and civic change. Last month, I had the privilege of interviewing local artist Sherrill Roland for the final installment of this series to learn about his work with The Jumpsuit Project. Roland created this initiative in 2016 to spark conversations around the issues related to incarceration and its impact on those who experience it — a subject he is all too familiar with. In 2013, Roland found himself wrongfully incarcerated just as he was beginning his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His performance encourages viewers to address their prejudices towards those incarcerated, and it challenges widely held beliefs surrounding the practice of mass incarceration. Through his work with The Jumpsuit Project, Roland is sparking real change in his community by sharing his own story and creating a safe space for others to learn about the lasting effects of mass incarceration.

Sherrill Roland's performance was one of the most powerful programs I've facilitated this year as his story resonated with me on many levels. We have all dealt with incarceration's effects, whether through personal experiences or having to cope with its impact on our loved ones. Through my interview with him, I was able to briefly glimpse life through his eyes. This experience allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the trauma and personal tragedy my own loved ones have endured — some of whom are still facing the challenge of rebuilding their lives after incarceration. Roland's story is compelling, and sheds light on the numerous injustices faced by many people of color today. So many Black Americans have experienced injustices just as he did, and this must change.

I encourage you to take a moment to watch the replay of my conversation with Sherrill Roland and examine your own prejudices today. Building empathy is the first step we can all take to build a stronger and more just community.

Check Out the Interview Replay

Learn More About Sherrill Roland and The Jumpsuit Project 


This blog post was written by Cearra Harris a teen services librarian at West Boulevard Library.