Who are notable Harvard alumni?

Posted a month ago

In celebrating Black History month it’s hard to go past the inspirational journey of one Harvard Law alumnus Bryan Stevenson.

In the 30 years since he had founded the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan has worked to free 100 inmates facing unjust convictions. He makes direct links between the history of African American slavery and lynchings and the high African American incarceration rate in gerneral - reflected in the high rate of death sentences of African Americans in southern US states. He initiated the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, for those African Americans who were lynched in southern USA from 1877-1950 - and sadly, there are over 4,000 names.

As much of his work goes behind closed doors (his beginnings saw his office without any signage), Bryan has an impressive collection of notable accolades including; NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award, not to mention honorary degrees from universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University School of Law. He further went on to pen the New York Times Bestseller “Just Mercy”, which won the 2015 Carnegie Medal for Best Non-Fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction.

In terms of his progression from college student to social justice advocate, Bryan’s journey was similar to that of many students today. He attended Eastern University for his undergraduate degree, however it wasn’t until he attended the Harvard School of Law that he found his true passion which was “fighting for those that couldn’t fight for themselves”.

Thanks to the internship opportunities that were offered at Harvard, Bryan interned at the Southern Center for Human Rights where he successfully argued the case of 2 inmates, where their death sentences were replaced with prison time. This was only the beginning of an incredible change to underrepresented minorities throughout the US.

Bryan spoke to students from Harvard’s Kennedy School in 2018 giving them insightful guidelines to keep in mind as they went through university and life. His wise words of advice included:

  • Commit yourself to staying “proximate” to the poor and underrepresented in society. Don’t worry if you are not currently an expert on a subject as you will become one “when you get close enough to the poor that you can wrap your arms around them, that's when you’re in a position to make a statement about their humanity.”

  • Have a willingness to change the narratives that underline society. Society makes generalised statements on certain groups of the community which can attribute to the politics of fear and anger

  • Students and world-changers have the twin responsibilities to stay hopeful and to do things they find uncomfortable and inconvenient.

To celebrate Black History month (which expands across February) students around the world are encouraged to think about how they can support the minorities in their communities and effect positive change for all - no matter the colour of their skin, the state of the circumstance, their religion, sex or political beliefs.

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