Campus Commentary

Bryan Stevenson Speaking at the 2020 Reynolds Lecture

It was mid-December when I heard that Bryan Stevenson was scheduled to give a Reynolds Lecture at Davidson College. As soon as I heard the news, I told Siri––my voice-activated assistant––to send me a reminder to get tickets the moment they were released. I knew that his campus visit was going to be big. That evening, I asked my Colombian roommate if he had ever heard of Bryan Stevenson and received a “no, let me go back to sleep” in response. It was then that I promised myself that I would educate him so that he would not miss out on such an amazing opportunity. Near the end of winter break, I took my roommate to watch Just Mercy, a movie based on Stevenson’s story, which pointed out the problematic gaps in the United State’s Criminal Justice System. This movie was very eye-opening for me and my roommate, allowing us to attain a greater understanding of the many challenges people face in the Criminal Justice system, as well as a major appreciation of Stevenson’s work. 

Known as the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who has devoted his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. 

By way of the EJI, Bryan Stevenson (and his team, including two Davidson Alums) has aimed to tackle societal problems present in the majorly flawed justice and prison system in the United States and has won major legal battles which include the elimination of unfair sentencing, the exoneration of innocent death row prisoners, and providing aid to children prosecuted as adults.

Within a minute into his lecture, I quickly realized that Stevenson is an incredible public speaker. I was blown away by the manner in which he spoke to such a large crowd. The strides that Stevenson has made to challenge poverty and discrimination in an effort to tackle inequality in America makes me think of him as a Nelson Mandela of this era. 

Through all of his powerful stories, Stevenson left us four points we should hold to heart if we want to change the world for the better: get proximate, change the narrative, be hopeful, and get uncomfortable. If we challenge ourselves to live by these principles, we will grow as people and have the proper mentality to be the game changers in our communities. Knowing this, Stevenson left me deeply motivated to actively live my life in a way that I can make a positive contribution to the people, and by extension, the community around me. 

Lastly, I would consider that the most outstanding idea Stevenson talked about was the reason why he wanted to become a lawyer. He told us that he wanted to become a lawyer because he wants to help broken people. He does it because he acknowledges that at one point, he was a broken person too. This reflects on myself and how I want to mend the bodies and save the souls of others, because I, too, was broken at some point in my life.