US civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson receives 2020 Right Livelihood Award
US civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson is among the recipients of the 2020 Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” for his efforts to reform the criminal justice system and advance racial reconciliation in the United States, the Right Livelihood Foundation said on Thursday.
The Swedish Right Livelihood Award is an internationally renowned prize honouring courageous changemakers since 1980. By recognizing the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, the Award aims to boost urgent and long-term social change.
Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer, who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of criminal justice reform, racial equality and opposing the historical legacy of institutional racism in the US. His decades-long struggle to stand up for the marginalised, including death-row inmates, people with mental disabilities and children sentenced for crimes as if they were adults, is paving the way for a more just society.
He is receiving the distinction “for his inspiring endeavour to reform the US criminal justice system and advance racial reconciliation in the face of historic trauma.”
“It’s a great honour to receive an award with this kind of prestige,” Stevenson said. “It’s very affirming and very encouraging, and it comes at a moment when there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of anxiety about our efforts to achieve justice in America.”
“We are in the midst of pushing racial justice projects that cause our nation to deal more honestly with the history of racial injustice and racial inequality, so this support will help us advance that work,” he added.
Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation, said, “Bryan Stevenson is a defender of the marginalised and the condemned striving to reform the US criminal justice system. In the face of systemic injustice, the legacy of slavery and racism in the country, Stevenson has shown that true freedom requires acknowledging the horrors of the past. With compassion and moral clarity, he is paving the way for the structural changes needed for American society to heal from its long and violent history of racial injustice.”
Stevenson will receive a prize money of 1 million SEK to support his work. As in previous years, the 2020 Laureates were nominated in an open process where anyone could submit individuals or organisations for consideration. The Laureates will be honoured during a virtual Award Presentation on December 3, 2020.
The other 2020 Right Livelihood Laureates are:
- Imprisoned human right lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh of Iran
- Indigenous rights lawyer Lottie Cunningham Wren of Nicaragua
- Pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski and the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Centre “Viasna” of Belarus
- Find more information on the other Laureates here.
- Photos and videos of the new Laureates can be found here.
Short biography of Bryan Stevenson
Stevenson’s work is rooted in the realisation that society and the justice system are plagued by systemic racism due to the unresolved history of slavery and white supremacy in the US. This is also manifested by the US having the highest rate of incarceration in the world, disproportionately affecting people of colour and the poor.
In 1989, Stevenson founded the organisation that is today called the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which has for decades advocated for people on death row. They represent hundreds of individuals in the criminal justice system yearly and have won the release, relief or reversal for over 140 wrongfully condemned individuals on death row. He is an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Stevenson has also argued and won cases before the US Supreme Court that have advanced the rights of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system and those of minors prosecuted as adults. Campaigning to end excessive sentencing practices, which often disproportionately affect the poor and people of colour, has been another important aspect of Stevenson’s work.
Stevenson and EJI have also been deeply engaged in documenting the history of slavery, lynchings and segregation in the US, opening both a museum and memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. By advocating for a society-wide process to face the legacy of slavery and white supremacy in the US, Stevenson is paving the way for the structural changes needed for societal healing from the country’s long and violent history of racial injustice.
Working with the condemned and marginalised, Stevenson’s compassion has shined a light on the innate worth of each human being. As he put it in his 2014 bestseller memoir, Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Place of Birth: Milton, Delaware, US
Date of Birth: November 14, 1959
Education: Eastern University, Harvard Law School (JD) and Harvard School
of Government (Masters Degree in Public Policy)
Stevenson is among more than 20 Laureates from the US to receive the Right Livelihood Award to date, including whistle-blower Edward Snowden, environmentalist Bill McKibben and journalist Amy Goodman.
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About the Right Livelihood Award
Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award aims to nurture the human courage needed to achieve peace, justice and sustainability for all. By recognizing the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, the Award aims to boost urgent and long-term social change.
182 Laureates from 72 countries have received the distinction to date.
The Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Foundation presenting the Award sees its role as being a megaphone and shield for the Laureates, providing them with long-term support. The Foundation’s main aims are to raise the profile of the Laureates and their work, provide protection when Laureates’ lives and liberty are in danger, and educate people on the innovative solutions presented by Laureates. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
A particular feature of the Award is that anyone can nominate individuals and organisations for consideration. An international Jury selects the Laureates after careful investigation by the Foundation’s research team. Unlike most other international prizes, the Right Livelihood Award has no categories. It recognises that in striving to meet the challenges of today’s world, the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification.