Bryan Stevenson inspires faith leaders, law students and local community
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, brought guests in the packed 900-seat auditorium at the LBJ Library at the University of Texas, Austin, to their feet just by walking onto the stage for Seminary of the Southwest’s 2016 Blandy Lecture on Tuesday evening, September 27. Stevenson spoke for 60 minutes about our country’s history of “domestic terror” to Native Americans and to African Americans and the need to “change the narrative about racial difference.” Citing the 4,000 lynchings of record in the American South and the continued burden of this unexamined history, he said, “We have need of redemption…I think we need truth and reconciliation in this country.”
Reflecting on the evening, the seminary’s Dean and President Cynthia Briggs Kittredge said, “It was a rich collaboration. The University of Texas invited us into their space, and we welcomed them to join us in hearing our speaker.” The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at The University of Texas at Austin partnered with the seminary to present Stevenson’s public lecture.
Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. 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. EJI recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.
Invited to Austin by the seminary’s Alumni Association, Stevenson delivered his first lecture on the campus of Seminary of the Southwest. He asked, “What does it mean to be a people of faith in such a punitive society?” He spoke of his own faith and upbringing in the evangelical tradition, and of the importance of identity instilled in him at an early age by his grandmother. “It is very important to me to be a lawyer committed to redemption.”
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to building a museum From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, and EJI is researching the sites where African Americans were lynched and erecting memorials.
Details about the museum and the memorial project
The two-day event on the seminary’s campus included presentation of the Durstan R McDonald Teaching award to Dr. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, professor of history and religious studies and director of the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas and member of All Saints’, Austin, and the Hal Brook Perry Distinguished alumni award to the Rev. Susan G. McCann, rector of Grace Church, Liberty, Missouri, whose ministry has been described at justice-making. Award citations for Dr. Virginia Burnett and the Rev. Susan McCann.