Winning Essay by Tiara D. from Alabama attending Tuskegee University

Winning Essay by Tiara D. from Alabama attending Tuskegee University

Inspiration is defined as "the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something." While searching for inspiration in my life I look to Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. At 30 years old, he originally opened the EJI in Tuscaloosa, Alabama which later moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Opening the nonprofit law center, did not come without its obstacles, but thankfully, Stevenson was not willing to give up. His life work is living proof that the actions of an individual can leave a positive, lasting impact on the world around him or her.

 Bryan Stevenson was born on November 14, 1959, to his parents Howard Carlton Stevenson, Sr. and Alice Gertrude Stevenson who were only two generations removed from slavery. The idea that the young great-grandson of slaves who himself lived through the demeaning acts of racism and segregation would later mature to become a lawyer who defends the poor, incarcerated, and condemned is beyond awe-inspiring. Many people will argue that the lives of the wrongly accused are not worth of fighting for, but Stevenson says, "We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated."

 Using the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has been able to secure justice for 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. The struggle for freedom for one of his most notable clients, Walter "Johnny Dee" McMillan, is outlined in his award-winning book, Just Mercy. Also included in Just Mercy are the stories of a few of his other clients and historical cases of other wrongly accused, condemned individuals. Stevens includes the backgrounds of each accused person to remind us that, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” (Bryan Stevenson)

 Currently, Stevenson is working on a project to commemorate slavery, lynching, and racism in America. His argument is that our nation has yet to take full responsibility for the horrors of slavery. Rather, most choose to sugar-coat the history or avoid it altogether. Stevenson feels that in order to truly move forward it is essential that we educate our communities on the true history of slavery. One part of his solution is to place lynching markers at the sites of lynching throughout the South. I agree with his argument, and too hope to see our nation place more of an importance on teaching and honoring the history of slavery in America.

 Not often in life, a person is presented with the chance to meet his or her hero. Therefore, I am honored and humbled to have meet mine, Bryan Stevenson. Being able to see him in person and hear the passion in his voice as he retold the cases he presented in Just Mercy was truly moving. To be in the presence of a man who has done so much for African Americans and our country as a whole was an amazing experience, and I will continue to allow that encounter to motivate me for the rest of my life.


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