by Cary Holley
[image from Penguin Random House]
Earlier this week, the University of Pennsylvania announced that the 2019 Commencement Speaker will be lifelong justice reform advocate Bryan Stevenson. In addition to founding the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that offers legal support to the unjustly incarcerated and advocates for much-needed policy reform, Stevenson’s writings, lectures and museum have played a pivotal role in putting criminal justice reform at the forefront of our national political discourse. His unremitting fight against the systemic inequality in our justice system has been a potent source of inspiration for many members of our board, and thus the BARS team could not be more elated to welcome him to our campus this May:
“I am thrilled that Penn has selected Bryan Stevenson as the 2019 commencement speaker. For me, his book Just Mercy served as one of my major motivators for starting the BARS organization as it demonstrated the need for an increase of discourse surrounding the injustices of the U.S criminal justice system. It is my hope that the university continues to promote a platform for justice reform through future projects and endeavors.” — BARS Founder & Co-President Madison Dawkins
The administration’s decision to make this fierce advocate our commencement speaker demonstrates the university’s acknowledgement of the importance of justice reform. The BARS team enthusiastically commends this stance:
“In a time when so much light has been shone on mass incarceration and all those that it affects, Bryan Stevenson being picked as commencement speaker is a symbol that these issues have been brought to the light and will remain there. Penn looking to his legacy and believing that he is fit to guide the graduating class into the real world is a step in a powerful direction. The class of 2019 is truly fortunate to have such an inspiring, iconic figure see them off into their future.” — BARS Co-Director of Publication Chinaechelum Vincent
Thus, as the exemplar of criminal justice advocacy, Bryan Stevenson offers us all an essential lesson about the ability to initiate change even in a seemingly unyielding system. His contagious passion for reform is what sparked an interest in criminal justice advocacy for many of us in BARS, and so we hope that his time on campus will serve to generate more support for this indispensable movement of compassion, equality and justice.