Sharing moments with Bryan Stevenson
By Rhonda V. Magee
This December, I had the pleasure of hearing Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy,” speak about racial reckoning, justice, and reconciliation again. I’ve heard Bryan speak four times over the years. The very first time was actually 30 years ago, when while studying at UVA Law, a friend and fellow student brought “her friend Bryan”, a young death penalty lawyer, to speak to our Black Law Students Association.
Stevenson had just flown in, straight from his work in Alabama representing a condemned death-row client, to receive the “Clarence B. Jones Award for Kingian Nonviolence,” presented by Clarence Jones, lawyer and sometimes speechwriter for Dr. King, by USF’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice (created in 2018 to honor Clarence Jones’ important work).
Bryan Stevenson’s four main points? You may have heard or read them before. He implored us all to (1) stay proximate to those who suffer most; (2) change the narratives that reinforce separation; (3) remain hopeful on even the darkest days; and (4) be willing to be uncomfortable and do inconvenient things in service of just transformation.
But the reason you must arrange to hear Bryan in person if you get the chance, even if you have heard him before, is this: By the end? He was literally prophetic-preaching. Sitting at a distance from the pulpit of USF’s St. Ignatius Church, I was as moved as anyone present when I heard him say — after having reached the point of almost being physically overcome — these words: “I feel like God is talking to me now!”
If you believe such things happen, you would probably have felt it, too.