/A greater step to a bigger mission

A greater step to a bigger mission

Photo Credit: Nancy Licata
Photo Credit: Nancy Licata

Richard Bernstien runs for Justice in the Supreme Court
Angie Stoecklin

When first meeting someone, how do we judge them? Usually for most people, it’s a visual judgment, whether negative or positive. Richard Bernstein, Democratic candidate for Michigan’s Supreme Court Justice, never had that option. Born with Congenital Cataracts and Retinitis Pigmentosa, Bernstein faces life looking through a different perspective.
“When a blind person goes through life, not knowing what the sky or the ocean looks like, we learn to live in a different kind of world,” Bernstein said.
The different kind of world Bernstein speaks of, as he puts it, is purely spiritual. Being blind, Bernstein says he appreciates things in a spiritual framework.
“I appreciate the world in a context limited to darkness, so I see everything in a spiritual essence.”
He doesn’t see his blindness as a disability though, being unable to see, he is unable to use vision as a basis for judgment. According to him, the visual component is what causes the greatest degree of prejudice.
“That’s the beauty of being blind, you tend to know people for who they are and what they are, on a more spiritual level,” Bernstein said.
While Bernstein doesn’t see his blindness as a fallback in his life, he acknowledges that he had to face many challenges that most people do not. One of the biggest challenges he faced was law school.
Law school students are expected to sit through hours of lectures, and take home 15-page fact patterns (facts of a situation, and/or summary of events). Student’s with the gift of sight would simply read through them and take notes. Since Bernstein did not have that option, he went about retaining such information in a different way.
“I would internalize everything my professors said. I would have the fact pattern read to me ten or 15 times until I had that memorized and internalized completely,” Bernstein explained.
His method, while effective, took him four times longer than it would for someone else to study the same fact pattern. Although law school was an “immense struggle” as he put it, Bernstein said that his faith in God gave him the strength to get through it.
“I prayed every day to God. I promised him that if he gave me the opportunity to get through school that I would dedicate my life to representing people with special needs who otherwise didn’t have access to the judicial system,” Bernstein said.
Since his start as an attorney, Bernstein set up his family law firm’s public service division, representing people who don’t have access to legal representation.
“I do it all for free, and I do it completely pro bono. I dedicated myself to making sure that people with special needs as well as our nation’s veterans have access to things that allow them to have a better life.” By “access to a better life” Bernstein gives examples such as public transportation, aviation, and education.
At the University of Michigan for example, he wanted people with disabilities to have access to the stadium. As a result, building codes were redefined not just at U of M, but on a national basis according to Bernstein.
In a case against US Aviation, Bernstein and his colleagues were able to provide access for people with disabilities a greater access to airports and airplanes.
These strides in representing people with disabilities are only a small fraction of what Bernstein has done for the disabled.
Bernstein believes that there is a greater purpose, and a greater mission in life in terms of why we are on this earth, and what we’re supposed to do with it.
“If you live your life with a greater sense of purpose and mission and you believe that you are part of something bigger than yourself, it allows for a fuller and greater life to exist,” Bernstein said.
When Bernstein is not fighting for the rights of the disabled, he is competing in marathons, 18 to be exact, as well as an Iron Man competition. He believes that athletics gives people strength and allows people the chance to overcome and face the difficulties of life.
Currently, Bernstein is running for Michigan’s Supreme Court Justice. If he obtains the position, Bernstein says he will still be able to do work for foundations, organizations, and non-governmental organizations. “As Justice I can still do the kind of work that I want to do to make a difference for people and have a positive effect on people.” While he won’t be an attorney for people, he will still be helping those in need, just from a different perspective. “I want to use the resources I was blessed with in order to enhance and make life better for other people.”
Bernstein has a lot to say about his purpose in life, and through his blindness, has lived his entire life through a perspective that most people don’t understand. He encourages people to enjoy their lives while they can, and to live it with the greatest degree of perspective.
Bernstein says, “You don’t realize what can happen each and every day. You don’t realize what can happen to you or the things that can occur, so live life to the fullest. Things can change in a matter of an instant, and they can change dramatically.”
The results of the Election will be posted after this issue of the ESG goes to print. So at this point it is unknown whether Bernstein will achieve his goal of becoming Justice. But if he does not, Bernstein says that he will not give up on helping those in need.