“Justice needs champions, and Bryan Stevenson is such a champion,” wrote South African civil rights activist, retired bishop and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu, in a piece for Vanity Fair. “His courage and commitment contributed to the abolition of the death penalty for juveniles, and he is working tirelessly to end life sentences for adults convicted of crimes committed in their youth.”
Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Ala., will receive an honorary degree from Holy Cross and address this year’s graduates during the College’s Commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 22 at 10:30 a.m. on the campus. The event will be streamed live over the web.
Stevenson was recently named one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2015. Serena Williams, the No. 1 women’s tennis player in the world, penned the piece: “Bryan has combatted excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerated innocent prisoners on death row, challenged the abuse of the incarcerated and mentally ill, aided children prosecuted as adults and litigated on behalf of the poor as well as those whose race denied them a fair trial. This year, his organization’s report on lynchings of African Americans in the Jim Crow South documented at least 700 previously unknown victims.”
She continued, “It is Bryan’s belief that every person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done, which is a lesson to so many that forgiveness is a necessary means to achieving equality for all.”
Stevenson is the author of the acclaimed book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” (Spiegel and Grau/Random House, 2014), a New York Times Bestseller, named by Time Magazine one of the 10 best books of nonfiction for 2014; and has been awarded several honors including the 2015 NAACP Image Award for outstanding nonfiction literary work, one of Esquire’s 5 Most Important Books of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction, one of the Boston Globe’s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year, a Seattle Times Best Book and finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize.
Due to unrest in Baltimore, President Obama announced that Stevenson will be part of an advisory group for a new nonprofit alliance, which the New York Times reported is “an independent nonprofit organization that is a spinoff of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. The president established the initiative early last year to address the lack of opportunities for boys and young men from minority groups.”
The public rights lawyer also made headlines in the beginning of April, when the state of Alabama announced plans to free Anthony Ray Hinton after nearly 30 years on death row. Stevenson, the lead attorney, worked on the case for 16 years, he told the Huffington Post: “Nothing has kept me up at night more than the fate of Mr. Hinton. I don’t think I have ever had a case that so exemplified the problems with our criminal justice system.”
Stevenson told CNN the “refusal of state prosecutors to re-examine this case despite persuasive and reliable evidence of innocence is disappointing and troubling.”
In April, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which historically recognizes journalists, announced the creation of the George Barrett Award in honor of Barrett — known by many as “Citizen” — who died in August after practicing law in Nashville for more than 50 years. Stevenson is the inaugural recipient of the award reports the Tennessean.
Stevenson’s 2012 TED talk, “We need to talk about an injustice,” has received more than two million views.
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