Bryan Stevenson talks social justice

Attorney-activist Bryan Stevenson and “Just Mercy” star Michael B. Jordan spoke with Brut about the death row case that inspired the film.

Winning justice, one client at a time

Bryan Stevenson helped save more than 135 prisoners from death row. The 2019 film Just Mercy — based off Stevenson’s book that documents his nonprofit law office, Equal Justice Initiative — shows how the death penalty in America relates to lynching. One of EJI’s first clients, Walter McMillian — a young black man who spent 6 years on death row for the murder of a white woman that he didn’t commit.

Priceless joy

“My great-grandfather was enslaved and had to believe in freedom that he hadn't seen. My grandparents were terrorized by lynching and had to believe in a security that they hadn't achieved. My parents were humiliated by segregation and yet found a way to have a hope for a better future. And I just want to honor their aspirations, their hope, their courage, their strength, their determination, and give that to my clients and the people that I work with today. It's funny, when Walter McMilian was released, we actually had to go back to death row to get his stuff. When we got down to the gate, it was so exhilarating to have them open the gate and walk through it with him as a free person. And I just was feeling so excited that I actually said to Walter, I said Walter, that was so great, let's go back in and do it again. And he always would say yes, but that's the one time he said, no I'm not going back in there. And I have had that moment several times," Bryan Stevenson tells Brut.

Now on the big screen

The lawyer, author and activist has spent decades cementing space for black Americans through trials, sacred grounds and now, cinema. He continues his work today with the EJI and the Memorial for Peace and Justice as well as the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.