This story is part of an editorial series examining racial discrimination as the driving force behind mass incarceration in the United States, in partnership with Ava DuVernay’s ‘13TH.’

The most powerful tool of 13TH, the latest documentary by Selma director Ava DuVernay that explores the history of mass incarceration in the U.S., is its universality. The film touches on more than how criminalizing black bodies was written into the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution—which essentially turned incarceration into a legal form of servitude; a loophole to the abolition of slavery loophole. It painfully explains how the provision has been exploited to discriminate against African Americans and other minorities. In turn, that has affected our society’s perceptions on race, politics, public safety, identity, and each other. Institutionalized racism is deeply baked into our way of life, and in many instances, we’re unable to see it.

It’s no coincidence that studies show people are more likely to shoot a black target than a white target. Or that cops search African-Americans more at traffic stops, even though white people are more likely to be found with guns or drugs. Or that communities of color overwhelmingly find themselves behind bars for drug crimes, even though their white counterparts (again) are just as likely to commit these same crimes, if not more. As DuVernay’s documentary masterfully demonstrates, what drives race in 2016 America—the endless stream of police shootings, the anger of the Black Lives Matter movement, the racial divisiveness in this presidential election—is the inevitable result of something 150 years in the making.

And it’s not just law enforcement. This intentional imbalance exists in all aspects of everyday life: housing, schools, the workplace, everywhere. But all too often, it takes one defining experience or conversation for the corrupt nature of the system to come into clear view. This is when our perspective sheds the personal for the bigger picture, and when we realize everything we had known up until that point—about the color of our skin, and our position in the U.S.’s racial class system—wasn’t done by chance. It was created by design.

We tapped a variety of influential voices—including Pusha T, Charlamagne Tha God, leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement Opal Tometi and Johnetta Elzie, music executive Russell Simmons, and the director of 13TH herself, Ava DuVernay—to hear their first-hand accounts of experiencing racial injustice, and how those moments helped shaped who they are today. Here’s what they said.