Bryan Stevenson -- Lawyer, Activist -- #blacklivesmatter

As we continue with our Black Lives Matter Series today we are looking at Bryan Stevenson. Now I will admit I knew nothing about him before researching him for this post. He is one of the names I was given by my black teacher friends when I asked for black people every American should know. From reading about Bryan Stevenson I have to say he is the perfect person to feature right now. His own experiences and those he fights for are examples of the injustice and prejudice in our country and society. I just watched the movie based off of Bryan Stevenson's memoir, Just Mercy. (The film and book have the same title.) If you have not watched it, you should. It is powerful. I cannot wait to get my hands on the book since I know the book is always better than the movie. This movie shows Bryan as a compassionate and intelligent man. He devotes his life to helping the poor and the people who have been charged with crimes they did not commit. 

One of the things I noticed as I watched the movies and read the interviews with him is how he truly has a way with words but also talks about many of the things we (at least white people) don't think about. In the movie he talks to one of his associates about how no one wants to remember that this is where the slaves were brought in and paraded up to be sold. Perhaps this is why he and his organization opened the Legacy Museum. He also talks about the lynching that occurred in the South and how people do not want to remember it. He however again created the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. He treats every person he meets who is facing death row with respect and compassion. He truly wants to change our society for the better and to give equal rights to all. He is definitely someone every American should know about and help create a truly free society.

Bryan Stevenson at TED 2012
Photo by James Duncan Davidson / CC BY-SA

Bryan Stevenson was born November 14, 1959 in Milton, Delaware to Howard Carlton Stevenson, Sr. and Alice Gertrude Golden Stevenson. He has an older brother and a sister.  Milton, Delaware was segregated into the 1960's even after the schools were forced to be integrated. His family attended the Prospect African Episcopal Church and Bryan played the piano and sang in the choir and toured with them. He graduated from high school in 1977. He played soccer and baseball and was president of the student body. He also won American Legion public speaking contests. He won a scholarship to Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He directed the gospel choir on campus and graduated in 1981. He earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Harvard University and a Master's Degree in public policy from John F. Kennedy School of Government. 

While in law school at Harvard he worked as an intern for Stephen Bright's Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. His experiences during this time gave him the path of his career and future. While sitting outside his apartment building in his car listening to his radio police officers approached his car with guns pulled. They threatened him if he moved. This was powerful for him because he knew it happened because he was black. He had not done anything wrong. He was a Harvard University student but because he was black the police found him to be a threat when he was just listening to his radio in his car in front of the place he lived. He also worked with death row inmates in the South as part of his internship. Imagine having to introduce yourself to someone convicted of a crime that has put them on death row and not even having the full law degree or education yet to help him or her. 

Bryan graduated from Harvard in 1985 and moved to Atlanta to work for Southern Center for Human Rights full time. He was assigned to work in Alabama. In 1989 he became in charge of the Alabama organization. He had a center in Montgomery that was funded by Congress. Eventually Congress stopped funding death-penalty defense so Bryan transformed his center into the Equal Justice Initiative. He guaranteed a defense to anyone facing death row in Alabama. It is the only state that does not provide legal assistance to inmates on death row. 

Bryan has argued and won many cases at the Supreme Court. One banned mandatory life-imprisonment without parole sentences for all children 17 and under. Another protects condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia. He and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for 135 wrongly convicted people facing death row. He has won many awards and has helped with new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts to challenge the inequality in America. He set up the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. 
Memorial Corridor at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
National Memorial for Peace and Justice photo by Soniakapadia / CC BY-SA
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is informally known as the National Lynching Memorial. It displays all the names of Americans who were killed by lynching. 
The Legacy Museum Exterior at The Legacy Museum - From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration
Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Incarceration photo by Soniakapadia / CC BY-SA
The Legacy Museum is an interactive museum that gives the history of black people from enslavement to incarceration and focuses on the racial issues in our society. 

Bryan Stevenson has worked to help the poor, women, men and children. He works to help those that have been wrongly convicted and works to help equal the playing field. He wrote his own memoir, Just Mercy, and it was turned into a movie. Although I could not find children's books about Bryan Stevenson, there is a young adult version of Just Mercy Adapted for Young Adults.

I have not had a chance to read either book, but hope to once our public library opens. Now I encourage you to check out my sources. Some of them are more about his views on racism and things white people need to know about race. His story is powerful and is something everyone should hear so we can truly understand the extent of racism in our country and society. Please help fight it and change the way people are being mistreated.