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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Founder of Equal Justice Initiative to Give President's Lecture Series Speech

By Joe Garvey

Bryan Stevenson, whom Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu has called America's young Nelson Mandela, will be the Marc and Connie Jacobson Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Speaker in the final President's Lecture Series speech of this academic year.

Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, social activist and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative,will speak at 7 p.m. March 19 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. The lecture is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required, but people who plan to attend are encouraged to RSVP. The University Bookstore will have his 2014 New York Times best-selling book, "Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice and Redemption," available for purchase.

A law professor at New York University, Stevenson and his staff have won relief or release for more than 125 prisoners on death row. He has argued five times before the Supreme Court, including in a case that affirmed the unconstitutionality of life-without-parole sentences for youths 17 and under. Stevenson, who has been praised for his efforts challenging bias against the poor and people of color, has received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

In 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., which documents slavery, lynching and discrimination in the United States.

Stevenson says it is crucial to understand and confront the history of racial injustice in the United States, which dates to our treatment of Native Americans.

"We abused and mistreated the communities and cultures that existed on this land before Europeans arrived, and then that narrative of racial difference was used to develop slavery," he told Pacific Standard magazine in 2018.

Statistics show that African Americans are five times more likely to be imprisoned than whites in the United States. Still, his advocacy to eliminate injustice and mass incarceration is fueled by hope.

"I actually believe that we can create communities in this country where people are less burdened by our history of racial inequality," he told Pacific Standard. "I believe it, even though I haven't seen it, and I just think that hope has real power in how you live and how you function."

That ideal comes across in his memoir, which Warner Bros. is adapting for a movie scheduled to be released in January.

In his review of "Just Mercy," Ted Conover of the New York Times wrote: "The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man's refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. 'Just Mercy' will make you upset and it will make you hopeful."

The annual Wallenberg Lecture is sponsored by the Marc and Connie Jacobson Philanthropic Foundation. Speakers for the Wallenberg Lecture are chosen by the University. They must be humanitarians - those who are "making the world a better place" - balanced in their philosophical beliefs and not at either extreme of the social spectrum.

The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring renowned speakers who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.

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