Social justice visionary Bryan Stevenson to present keynote at annual MLK convocation

Bryan Stevenson
Photo by Nina Subin.

Bryan Stevenson, one of the country’s most visionary legal thinkers and social justice advocates who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned, will present the keynote address at Case Western Reserve University’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. convocation.

A MacArthur fellow and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Stevenson is considered a leader in the movement against mass incarceration in the United States. He recently served on President Barack Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing.

Stevenson’s speech, on Friday, Jan. 22, at 12:30 p.m. in the Tinkham Veale University Center, is free and open to the public, although registration is recommended. To register, visit

Each year, Case Western Reserve honors Martin Luther King Jr.—the holiday, the man and the legacy—with a weeklong celebration featuring a range of activities, from workshops and films to panel discussions and celebrated speakers. The theme of the 2016 MLK Week Celebration is “Reflections on the Movement: The Urgency of Then and Now.” The MLK Celebration Committee is now accepting funding proposals from university departments, student organizations, offices and centers for MLK Celebration programming.

Stevenson, who Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has called “America’s young Nelson Mandela,” has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant and the NAACP Image Award for best non-fiction, and was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” for 2015.

Under Stevenson’s 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.

Stevenson, a New York University School of Law professor, has argued several cases successfully in the U.S. Supreme Court and won a historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

He has initiated major anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including major projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation.

His memoir, Just Mercy, is the story of a young lawyer fighting on the frontlines of a country in thrall to extreme punishments and careless justice. It is an inspiring story of unbreakable humanity in the most desperate circumstances, and a powerful indictment of a broken justice system and the twisted values that allow it to continue.

Essay contest

As part of the weeklong celebration, the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest invites all students, faculty and staff members to reflect on the application of King’s values and vision to contemporary social, political and economic issues. This year, the contest also is open to faculty/administrators, staff and students at Cuyahoga Community College.

First prize is $300 and a copy of one of King’s books for each category: faculty/administrator, staff and student. Winners will be recognized at the MLK Convocation, have their work on display at Kelvin Smith Library through February and will be invited to read at a reception Feb. 26 at 4pm.

Essays should be submitted to by Monday, Jan. 4, at 5 p.m. Essays must be five to seven pages and in Word (.doc, .docx) or .pdf format. Identify your institution and whether you are faculty/administrator, staff or student in the subject line. For guidelines, questions and the prompt, visit

The contest is sponsored by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, Voices from the Village and Kelvin Smith Library.