Bryan Stevenson

Lawyer, Social Justice Activist and Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. 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.

Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without parole for all children aged 17 or younger. He and his staff have won reversals, relief or release from prison for over 140 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.

Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. He led the creation of EJI’s highly acclaimed Legacy Sites, including the Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation, alongside the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias.

Mr. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius Prize”; the ABA Medal, the American Bar AssociatIon’s highest honor; the Roger N. Baldwin National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union, after he was nominated by Supreme Court Justice John Stevens; the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers; and the Swedish Olof Palme Prize for international human rights. In 2002, he received the Alabama State Bar Commissioners Award. In 2003, he was presented with the SALT Human Rights Award by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Griffin Bell Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented him with its Distinguished Teaching Award. He won the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award and the Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. In 2012, he received the American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award and the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Social Progress.

Mr. Stevenson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014 and won the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize. In 2015, he was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. In 2016, he received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. He was named in Fortune’s 2016 and 2017 list of the world’s greatest leaders and he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize from the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2018. In 2020, he received the Right Livelihood Award from the Right Livelihood Foundation in Sweden. In 2023, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Biden.

Mr. Stevenson has received over 50 honorary doctoral degrees from prestigious academic institutions including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times best seller “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” which was named by Time magazine among the 10 best nonfiction books of 2014 and has been awarded several honors, including the American Library Association’s 2015 Carnegie Medal for nonfiction and a 2015 NAACP Image Award. “Just Mercy” was adapted as a major motion picture and the film won the American Bar Association’s 2020 Silver Gavel Award as well as four NAACP Image Awards. Mr. Stevenson is also the subject of the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary film “True Justice.” He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School.


Photo credit: Rog and Bee Walker

Bryan Stevenson