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Bryan Stevenson MPP/JD 1985 is a man who has “spent his whole life awake to the issues of social injustice," said Dean David Ellwood when introducing Stevenson to a packed house Thursday evening. Stevenson illustrated that awareness during his talk at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum titled, “Justice in an Era of Mass Imprisonment.”
Stevenson shared chilling facts with the audience such as, “the United States has the highest documented incarceration in the world,” and that “one in three black male babies are expected to grow up and go to prison in their lifetime.” The emotional responses in the Forum continued to swell as Stevenson spoke about his grandfather’s murder and how he still fights for justice, and continues to believe that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Stevenson said there are four elements for creating greater justice, opportunity, and fairness within the justice system. First, he stressed the importance of getting proximate and close to the things we are passionate about changing.
“Get close to the things that matter, get close to the places where there is inequality and suffering, get close to the spaces where people feel oppressed, burdened, and abused,” said Stevenson. “See what it does to your capacity to make a difference, see what it does to you.”
Stevenson’s second element surrounds changing the narrative behind oppression, poverty, and racism. For him this means abolishing the fear and anger that propels inequities and violence to thrive.
His third point was about hope. “Your hope is essential,” he said. “To change the world you’ve got to stand up when everyone else is sitting.” He also discussed how choosing to do uncomfortable things activates a power to make sustainable change against injustice.
Stevenson also shared that prior to delivering his speech at the Kennedy School, he had just learned that he had won a case for a man who had been on death row and in solitary confinement for 30 years. After working with the man for 15 years, and taking his case to the Supreme Court, he will soon be released. Stevenson stated, “I am going to remember this trip to the Kennedy School, not only because you all have been special, but because this is the day we finally won this long term battle to resurrect the will of justice for someone.”
Stevenson is continuing to inspire awareness and activism against social injustice in a variety of ways. From his TED Talk that has more than two million views and counting, his newly released book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, and his work as Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson is cultivating a new narrative against racial, socio-economic inequality and mass incarceration.
Stevenson's message to the Fourm audience was clear, "keep beating the drum for justice."
To learn more about Bryan Stevenson listen to his interview with HKS PolicyCast:
The Forum was sponsored by the Institute of Politics.
Bryan Stevenson MPP/JD 1985
Photo Credit: Kristyn Ulanday
“To change the world you’ve got to stand up when everyone else is sitting.”