On September 22 in Nashville, Bryan Stevenson received the 2014 Belmont College of Law Champions for Justice Award. Stevenson works on a number of criminal justice issues, including the death penalty and sentencing reforms as the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, AL). Stevenson’s tireless work, particularly on behalf of people of color suffering disproportionately in the current criminal justice system, earned him this latest accolade.
Stevenson encouraged the packed chapel of students, administrators, faculty, and community activists to place themselves within the proximity of those who are suffering in order to truly understand the wounds inflicted by poverty, incarceration, and lack of opportunity. He acknowledged that the work to alleviate such suffering will not be easy, and as Mrs. Rosa Parks once told him when she was visiting Montgomery, “it will make you tired, tired, tired.” Nevertheless, Stevenson called people of faith to be hopeful in their work, giving examples of transformation, even in unlikely people and places, that occur all the time when people get educated or connected to those who suffer under the current system. Stevenson’s final charge was for all attendees to remember that no person can be categorized by the worst thing that they have done–there is more to everyone that that. For people of faith, who hold to the power of redemption and work for criminal justice reform, Stevenson’s reminder was a powerful concluding word.
We applaud Belmont Law School for honoring Bryan Stevenson, even as our state prepares to execute eleven men. The courts continue to deliberate about Tennessee’s lethal injection protocols, the state’s secrecy around the source of the lethal injection drugs, as well as the possible use of the electric chair. The clock is ticking as Billy Ray Irick’s execution is set for October 7, 2014. If you have not yet signed the open letter to the Governor encouraging him to halt all executions until system can be reviewed please do so here. TADP is planning a vigil should this execution move forward to occur in Nashville at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution at 5:30 on Oct. 7 and in Memphis at noon on at First United Methodist Church, 204 N. Second St. 38105.
Also, if you wish to know more about Bryan Stevenson check out Equal Justice Initiative as well as Stevenson’s new book Just Mercy set to be released on October 21, 2014. You can also listen to Stevenson’s TED Talk here. Stevenson will be back in Nashville at the Re-Visioning Justice Conference at Vanderbilt University as a keynote speaker, along with Howard Zehr, from April 17-19, 2015, hosted by the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership.
Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Stevenson
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