Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and civil rights advocate, will speak at this year’s commencement ceremony, the University announced on Tuesday. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony.
Stevenson grew up in a small town in Delaware, where he attended a segregated elementary school for students of color. It wasn’t until second grade that he enrolled in a formally desegregated school.
After graduating from high school in 1977, Stevenson earned a full scholarship to Eastern University, a small Christian school in St. Davids, Pa. Harvard Law School later offered him a full scholarship, and he graduated in 1985 with a master’s degree in Public Policy.
During his time at Harvard, he worked with the Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Atlanta, dedicated to fighting for the civil rights of prison inmates and representing prisoners on death row in Southern states.
He was appointed to direct the Alabama branch of the Southern Center for Human Rights after graduating from Harvard. He was particularly concerned about reducing harsh punishments given to minors.
In the 1990s, Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit based in Montgomery, Ala., which seeks to represent death row inmates who may have been wrongly convicted, prisoners who can’t afford equitable representation and others who may have been denied fair legal representation.
Stevenson was named as a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant in 1995 and was awarded a sum of several hundred thousand dollars which he invested into EJI.
He has also worked to acknowledge the history of slavery and violence against African Americans throughout his home state of Alabama.
Three markers which explain the history of slave auction sites in Montgomery have been installed since Stevenson gained approval for the proposal in 2013. Originally, the Alabama Department of Archives and History opposed the idea, warning that the markers might be too controversial.
Stevenson is also developing plans for a project he calls the Memorial for Peace and Justice, which would commemorate the thousands of African Americans who were murdered by lynchings during the 19th and 20th centuries in Alabama and other Southern states.
He will speak at commencement at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena on May 24. About 7,000 Hopkins undergraduates, graduate students and professional students will receive their degrees this year.