Bryan Stevenson delivers powerful message.

 
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Byline: Andrew R. Grainger

If you don't want to be compelled to think carefully about what you are doing with your law degree, stay away from Bryan Stevenson. You don't want to read his book "Just Mercy," and you don't want to see the movie of the same name, recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

And, you definitely didn't want to be in the audience of some 300 judges, lawyers and court personnel when he spoke for close to two hours at a recent lunchtime gathering sponsored by the Flaschner Judicial Institute.

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Like any good advocate he grasps the importance of framing the issue, and so he counsels us to "change the narrative" from an emphasis on wrongdoing to an understanding of poverty, ignorance and mental affliction.

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Stevenson has dedicated his life to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He has represented death row inmates at every level of tribunal from state criminal trial courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he's a two-time winner. (In 2005's Roper v. Simmons, the court decreed the death penalty to be unconstitutional for persons convicted of crimes committed under the age of 18. In Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the court declared mandatory sentences of life-without-parole for children 17 and younger to be unconstitutional.)

He is the founder and guiding force of the Equal Justice Initiative, a public interest nonprofit law firm with no small set of goals: "ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society."

In the past several years under his leadership, the Equal Justice Initiative has opened the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Both are located within steps of Court Square Fountain, Montgomery's 19th century central slave auction site. Both are based on a simple and powerful premise: We cannot cure what we don't confront.

Last May, Superior Court Judge Angel Kelley led a group of Massachusetts judges and family members on a three-day trip to Montgomery. When she organized the trip, she expected to recruit a dozen or so members of various courts in the commonwealth. By the departure date, we were some 80 strong.

We went to the museums, met with justices at the Alabama...

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