Discover “Cape Hero” Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson

When I decided to publish a blog about all things that make us as a local community “Cape Proud”, I went forth excited and interested to interview highly successful Cape Henlopen High School graduates.  

I certainly never thought that I would feel as I do with my second” Cape Hero”, not able to aptly put the correct words on paper to do this man justice.  Bryan Stevenson, a 1977 graduate of Cape Henlopen High School is not only a local hero but he has been called by many of his peers, reporters and the country at large “America’s Mandela.” In fact politicians like Desmond Tutu, and celebrities like Serena Williams have put pen to paper to applaud Bryan Stevenson’s spirit and determination.

Mr. Stevenson is a wildly successful attorney, author and the Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative.  He has been litigating on behalf of condemned prisoners, juveniles, and the wrongly convicted for the better part of two decades.  His work to defend against racial bias has gained him worldwide acclaim and countless Human Rights awards.

Through the Equal Justice Initiative, which he founded in 1989, Mr. Stevenson  has fought excessive and unfair sentencing, freed innocent prisoners on death row, challenged judges, lawyers, politicians and police in order to protect the wrongfully incarcerated and mentally ill.  He consistently assists children prosecuted as adults and litigates on behalf of the poor as well as those whose race denied them a fair trial.

In 2014 Mr. Stevenson penned a book “Just Mercy”.  After giving a moving TED (Technology Entertainment & Design) speech, many suggested he should write a book.  Stevenson himself was initially wary because he knew that the writing would take time away from his important clients.  But as he began to write the book he found it cathartic and in fact realized that he could affect more people worldwide with his story.  After the release of his book, he won several more awards and countless praise.  David Cole, of The New York Review of Books called ““Just Mercy” “Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird and in some ways more so … a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.”

In fact, “Just Mercy” will be printed in paperback next month and Mr. Stevenson recently sold the movie rights to his compelling story.

When I asked Mr. Stevenson if any Cape teachers inspired him to achieve such great heights, he instantly mentioned Harriet Jeglum who encouraged him to enter speech contests, take roles in plays and “she laid the foundation for his love of literature and how it relates to real experiences.”

Although Mr. Stevenson calls Montgomery Alabama home today, his roots are still deeply grounded in Delaware.  His father resides in Milton and the senior Mr. Stevenson still works at the Midway Movie Theaters. Stevenson loves coming home to Sussex County which he does several times a year.  

In truth, this powerful force in our world is very soft spoken and gracious.  He generously spoke to me for this blog about our small part of the world and his love for our area.  Although our current students are walking in a new high school facility, the fact that world renowned defender of the downtrodden, Bryan Stevenson graced the then “new” halls of Cape Henlopen High School in 1977, makes all of us as a community “Cape Proud”.

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