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Eastern Alum Bryan Stevenson Receives National Recognition

Bryan Stevenson, Eastern alum of the class of 1981, has recently been receiving national attention in regards to his work against the injustice within the legal system. Racial bias, false convictions, unreliable eyewitness testimonies, and botched executions are just a few of the issues that plague the American Justice system within the 21st century.

Bryan Stevenson (alum '81), founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, was called "America's young Nelson Mandela" by the New York Times.ted.com | Creative Commons

Bryan Stevenson (alum ’81), founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, was called “America’s young Nelson Mandela” by the New York Times.

Born and raised in a poor neighborhood in Delaware, the Brown v. Board of Education decision for formal desegregation in 1954 did not reach Stevenson’s neighborhood immediately. Therefore Stevenson spent his first year of schooling in a “colored” school. However, even when laws changed to support equality among all races, there was always an ingrained racism within their community, and it was not something that could be avoided. When the decision came around to pick a college to attend, Stevenson followed in his older brother’s footsteps and attended Eastern University, majoring in political science and philosophy, while also directing the campus gospel choir. After his graduation from Eastern, he set off to Harvard Law School, where he initially felt detached and distant from the subject he was studying, as well as from his more privileged classmates.

In January of 1983, Stevenson traveled to Atlanta for a month-long internship where he worked with an organization that advocated for the human rights of those who have the death penalty. From that experience, he began to see the depth of injustices occurring for those who were unable to afford appropriate legal representation.

In October of this year, New York Times recognized Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy”, as a work that focuses on the personal story of an activist lawyer fighting desperately against injustice, and the clients and people that he encounters along the way. He writes of his first case, with Mr. Walter McMillian, who was falsely accused of murdering a white woman despite eyewitness evidence proving otherwise. After hard work and perseverance, McMillian was released in 1993, providing a foundational case for Stevenson, both professionally as well as personally.

Since then, he has aided in freeing many people from excessive punishment, and has even argued five times in front of the Supreme Court. “Just Mercy” has been nominated for the prestigious Kirkus Prize, and New York Times has called Stevenson “America’s Young Nelson Mandela”. As founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative he believes that “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Sources: New York Times, Eastern.edu, NYU Law Magazine

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