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Bryan Stevenson

Attorney, human rights activist, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author of Just Mercy

  • About Bryan Stevenson

    Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and one of the most acclaimed and respected lawyers in the nation. His memoir, Just Mercy, 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 has called Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work on individual cases has generated national attention and his efforts have reversed death penalties for dozens of condemned prisoners. 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. Stevenson’s remarkable twenty-minute TED Talk on the subject of injustice has been viewed over 4 million times on the TED website and over 700k times on YouTube; The New Yorker named it one of five essential TED Talks.

    After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, 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, 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.

    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 one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 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. He was recently asked by Starbucks to advise on curriculum for its nationwide day of racial bias education.

    Discover how you can champion diversity within your organization. Visit Bryan Stevenson’s Company Reads page to learn more.

  • Speaking Topics

    American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity and Making a Difference

    America has the largest prison population in the world – and the criminal justice system that puts the men, women, and children in these prisons is broken. Excessive punishment and abuse are widespread, and the collateral consequences are devastating lives and communities. An inspiring and unflinchingly honest speaker, Bryan Stevenson talks about defending some of America’s most rejected and marginalized people. The stories he tells are heartbreaking, yet inspiring, and motivate audiences to make a change.

  • Video

  • Praise for Bryan Stevenson


    Please thank Bryan Stevenson for taking the time to inspire 1100 students, faculty and community members here who gave him two standing ovations! The personal stories he shared about his education and career, as well as the thoughtful advice he provided about how to pursue worthwhile and meaningful work, really touched the students in the audience. His commitment to justice, and his positive approach, powered by hope and love, to tackling some of the most challenging problems our country faces was so moving. As one community member wrote to me:  I found myself shifting from laughter to tears. In addition, he was very gracious about signing books and taking photos for a very long book signing line. There was a group of 12 high school students who had come 2 hours on a bus from Mt. Vernon were particularly grateful for a photo-op before their ride home.

    Iowa State University

    Our whole campus community was moved and inspired by Bryan’s talk last night.  It brought me to tears as it did to others.  He is an incredible gift to this world.   We are all ready to change the world here!

    Nebraska Wesleyan University

    It was an absolute privilege to have Bryan as our keynote speaker and our guest.  Rockefeller Chapel was packed, and he captivated the audience in a way that I have never seen before.

    The University of Chicago

    A big thank you to all of you at Penguin/Random House for helping with the arrangements for Attorney Stevenson’s visit.  It was an extraordinary evening… His talk inspired the attendees – I’m already getting questions about what we do next to carry out his message!

    Connecticut College

    Oh my goodness. Bryan is an incredible human being. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and he gave 100%+ every moment, at every event and to every person, including the 1000+ members of the community who attended the lecture and Q&A. I’ve been in this business for 15 years and he is at the top of my list along with Dr. Maya Angelou and Yo Yo Ma as people who inspire everyone they come in contact with and who really make this world a better place by merely being alive. It was an honor to be in his company for 6 hours.

    California State University, Chico

    I am still basking in the glory of Bryan’s visit. It was truly a wonderful event. Bryan is a gracious and eloquent man in every sense. I will be reflecting on his words and his philosophies for a long while.

    East Lansing Public Library

    Bryan was simply astonishing. What an amazing man, and an incredible speaker. No notes, no PowerPoint, just stood up there and talked for over an hour, so brilliant! We had 1,250 people, sold out of books and the surveys are all glowing. Huge standing ovation.

    Family Action Network

    “Today was absolutely amazing. Everyone, from faculty to students, raved about Bryan. On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), he was about a 25. Many, many people said that he was the best speaker we have ever had at the school, and this is a ‘tough audience.’ We were in the presence of greatness today, and I mean that literally. I am inspired beyond belief. I have been teaching at GA for 45 years and we have had dozens of outstanding speakers and Bryan was ‘head and shoulders’ above any of them. Seriously, the kids continue to approach me and tell me how impressed they were. All weekend, I had parents calling me, texting me and emailing me with comments like ‘What happened at school on Friday?  My son/daughter came home from school and has not stopped talking about your speaker.'”

    Germantown Academy, Fort Washington, PA

    Bryan was absolutely extraordinary today. Words fail. Students, faculty, everyone was so moved and inspired…People are saying this has been one of the best MLK Days at Exeter in the last 5 years, 10 years, ever.

    Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH

    We had a fabulous day with Bryan! Over 1,000 people in the auditorium gave him a standing ovation. Plus over 1,000 people heard him at our remote sites. All this in some very snowy weather. Everyone loved him and his inspirational message!

    Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

    Bryan Stevenson was spectacular—just as we expected! He held our audience spellbound—you could hear a pin drop as he spoke. He’s a compelling person, that’s for sure! It was a memorable and meaningful day at the Town Hall Forum.

    Westminster Town Hall, Minneapolis, MN

    Praise for Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Readers)

    This inspiring book will ignite compassion in young readers and show connections between the history of slavery, Reconstruction, and the present day.

    Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    Praise for Just Mercy

    Just Mercy is every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so…[It] demonstrates, as powerfully as any book on criminal justice that I’ve ever read, the extent to which brutality, unfairness, and racial bias continue to infect criminal law in the United States. But at the same time that Stevenson tells an utterly damning story of deep-seated and widespread injustice, he also recounts instances of human compassion, understanding, mercy, and justice that offer hope…Just Mercy is a remarkable amalgam, at once a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.”

    David Cole, The New York Review of Books

    A passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.

    Booklist (starred review)

    Emotionally profound, necessary reading.

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.

    John Grisham

    Bryan Stevenson is America's young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. As gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.

    Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

    From the frontlines of social justice comes one of the most urgent voices of our era. Bryan Stevenson is a real-life, modern-day Atticus Finch who, through his work in redeeming innocent people condemned to death, has sought to redeem the country itself. ‎This is a book of great power and courage. It is inspiring and suspenseful. A revelation.

    Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Sons
  • Books by Bryan Stevenson

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