MLK celebration to feature keynote by lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and professor of clinical law at New York University, will deliver the keynote speech at the 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 9 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. The event will be webcast online.

Stevenson is an acclaimed public interest lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons.

“We are thrilled to welcome Bryan Stevenson to our campus to celebrate the history and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “Our excitement stems from his ability to speak for some of our society’s most disenfranchised—those involved in the criminal justice system who are overwhelmingly poor, minority, young and underrepresented.”

Under Stevenson’s leadership, the Equal Justice Initiative has won major legal challenges, secured reversals, relief or release for more than 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row, exposed abuse of the incarcerated and aided children prosecuted as adults.  At the U.S. Supreme Court, Stevenson won a historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

Stevenson is the recipient of numerous awards, including a MacArthur Foundation grant, and in 2015 he was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people.

Doors open at 5 p.m., and ASL interpretation will be provided. Herschella Conyers, AB’76, JD’83, clinical professor of law, will introduce Stevenson. After Stevenson’s keynote speech, Craig Futterman, clinical professor of law, will lead a Q&A and give closing remarks. A community reception at Ida Noyes Hall will follow the program and is free and open to the public. 

University honors diversity leaders, partners on day of service

The University’s celebration also includes recognizing recipients of the Diversity Leadership Awards, which honors members of the faculty, staff and alumni communities who display leadership in fostering diversity and advance social justice and equity, both within the University and beyond. This year’s recipients, who will be presented their awards by President Robert J. Zimmer on Jan. 9, are former University Police Chief Rudy Nimocks, Prof. Margaret Beale Spencer, PhD’76, and Silk Road Rising founder Jamil Khoury, AM’92.

Also in honor of Martin Luther King Day, the University Community Service Center is partnering with the Laboratory Schools and UChicago Charter School for the annual MLK Day of Service on Jan. 14, which partners volunteers with more than a dozen community partner organization service sites.