Bryan Stevenson to Receive Wallenberg Medal

Bryan Stevenson, photo credit Michael Collopy

The 2016-2017 Wallenberg Medal will be awarded to civil rights lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. in the Rackham Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus. After the medal presentation, Stevenson will give the 25th Wallenberg Lecture.

Stevenson is committed to serving the legal needs of the poor in the American deep south. He has represented death row prisoners since 1985 when he was a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an organization he founded in 1989 that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform in the United States. EJI litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. Under Stevenson’s direction, EJI has handled hundreds of cases and spared the lives of 125 death row prisoners. Stevenson’s arguments have convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that juveniles in non-homicide cases may not be sentenced to life without parole. He is creating a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate the more than 4,000 persons who were lynched in twelve southern states between 1871 and 1950.

Stevenson is an inspirational professor of law at New York University where he prepares students to consider the legal needs of those in resource-deprived regions. He has been a visiting professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School. He is the author of the prize-winning book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and has won numerous awards and honors, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award Prize, the ACLU National Medal of Liberty, the Olaf Palme Prize for international human rights, the Gruber Prize for International Justice, and the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award.

For a quarter century, the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture program has honored individuals who, through their lived commitment to human rights and humanitarian principles, reflect the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg. A 1935 graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II. In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city. He repeatedly risked his life to confront Hungarian and German forces, securing the release of Jews and placing them under the protection of the Swedish government.

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Resource Toolkit for the 25th Wallenberg Medal and Lecture

About the Lecture

The Wallenberg Lecture is free and open to the public, and is not ticketed.

About the Recipient

Bryan Stevenson
Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative
Civil rights lawyer and advocate for justice

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. 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 successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. EJI has also initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts challenging the legacy of racial inequality in America. Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards including the ABA Wisdom Award for Public Service, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award Prize, the Olaf Palme International Prize, the ACLU National Medal of Liberty, the National Public Interest Lawyer of the Year Award, the Gruber Prize for International Justice ,and the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award. In 2015, he was named to the Time 100 recognizing the world’s most influential people. Recently, he was named in Fortune’s 2016 World’s Greatest Leaders list. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, has been awarded 26 honorary doctorate degrees and is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law. He is the recent author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 best books of nonfiction for 2014, and has been awarded several honors including the Carnegie Medal by the American Library Association for the best nonfiction book of 2014 and a 2015 NAACP Image Award.

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Discussion Questions

  1. What are the key themes from the lecture?
  2. What is justice? Is it a value? Is it an act? Is it a philosophy or way of thinking?
  3. How do ideas and ways of thinking about justice, and injustice, differ?
  4. What are some of the tensions today between law and justice?
  5. How have individuals and communities responded to perceptions of injustice?
  6. What question would you like to ask Bryan Stevenson?
  7. What action steps can we take together to make an impact?