I’ve admired many people over the years who have influenced my opinions on the legal system and social justice issues. Public figures like abolitionist and professor Angela Davis and organizer Mariame Kaba have taught me more about the injustices plaguing people (primarily poor, primarily nonwhite) across America, and Bryan Stevenson’s work highlights many other issues about which I wasn’t previously educated. Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer, anti-death penalty advocate, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and professor at NYU School of Law. I first discovered Bryan’s incredible impact on the legal system when I read his Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption a few years ago, completely unaware of his importance. Bryan Stevenson founded EJI– a legal organization “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society” as a young lawyer after he worked with incarcerated people on death row. He saw how brutally and horrifically unjust the legal system is and he wanted his organization to provide as much assistance to the people who experienced the racial inequalities perpetuated by the prison system. Bryan Stevenson is known for his work as an advocate against the death penalty and many forms of imprisonment as one of his most famous quotes is–
“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
In his time as a practicing attorney, Bryan Stevenson has freed over 100 incarcerated people charged with unjust convictions, many of whom were placed on death row. He also recently took on the role of director of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum— a Montgomery memorial honoring all of the known and unknown victims of lynchings in America. Bryan Stevenson earnestly believes in remembering the horrors of the past in order to move forward in a more just and equal way, which is the same path that EJI takes in their legal and educational work. After reading Just Mercy, the New York Times #1 Bestseller, I learned more about inequalities in the prison system and the cruelty of the death penalty than ever before. It’s important for me to learn from people like Bryan, who have seen these issues firsthand and who are on the front lines fighting against an inherently racist and unjust system that seeks only to destroy and dehumanize rather than repair and rehabilitate. If there was ever a time that more people like Bryan Stevenson were needed, it’s now.