Past Event On March 20, 2021

Bryan Stevenson

American Injustice

Bryan Stevenson

“My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Bryan Stevenson

American Injustice

Virtual Program Date: March 20, 2021

Bryan Stevenson is one of America’s most visionary legal thinkers and social justice advocates. The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the bestselling memoir Just Mercy, Stevenson is a leader of the movement against mass incarceration in the U.S. In 2018, he spearheaded the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, the first national memorial to victims of white supremacy. Unflinchingly honest at the podium, Stevenson spoke about mercy, humanity, and making a difference.

“This program was right up there as one of the best, if not the best, Forum program I’ve ever attended. Stevenson is one of the most well-informed and powerful voices of our time on issues of social and racial justice, and his message was both compelling and particularly timely given the events in the US, and in Richmond in particular, over the past year.

He is one of the most renowned civil rights lawyers today, but it is his speaking and storytelling ability that made this program impactful. His message that ‘hope is our superpower against injustice’ could be a rallying call for a public discussion about how to solve many difficult and longstanding societal inequities.”

– Subscriber Comment


After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Bryan Stevenson moved to the South, a region on the verge of a crisis: the states were speeding up executions, but many of the condemned lacked anyone to represent them. On a shoestring budget, he started the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a law practice dedicated to defending some of America’s most rejected and marginalized people. The cases he took on would change Stevenson’s life and transform his understanding of justice and mercy forever.

Today, Stevenson is one of the most acclaimed and respected lawyers in the nation. His memoir, Just Mercy, a New York Times bestseller since 2015, is the story of a young lawyer fighting on the frontlines of a country in thrall to extreme punishments and careless justice. It is an inspiring story of unbreakable humanity in the most desperate circumstances and a powerful indictment of our broken justice system and the twisted values that allow it to continue.

Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu (The Richmond Forum, 2000) has called Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. In 2012, Stevenson won a historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that this decision had to be applied retroactively, potentially affecting the sentences of 2,300 people nationwide who had been sentenced to life while still children.

“Changing the way we police, prosecute, judge, and punish is the essence of criminal-justice reform.”

– Bryan Stevenson

In April 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Designed to show how our nation’s history of slavery, lynching, and discrimination set the stage for modern-day injustices such as mass incarceration and police brutality, the Legacy Museum serves as a center of public information and an overdue memorial to victims of racial violence. The EJI also released Segregation in America, a companion website that explores the lesser known narratives of dozens of national leaders who advocated for segregation and white supremacy. The website is meant to focus on the people who supported racial inequality to help define the challenges that still affect racial tensions today.

Stevenson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction, and was named to the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in 2015. Stevenson is a tenured law professor at New York University School of Law. He was named in Fortune’s 2016 World’s Greatest Leaders list and served on President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing. In 2018, he was asked by Starbucks to advise on the curriculum for its nationwide day of racial bias education.

Just Mercy was made into a major motion picture starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. The film was released in January 2020.

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