NEW YORK — The Ford Foundation announced today the election of Bryan Stevenson to serve as a member of its Board of Trustees.
A renowned public interest lawyer, Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the visionary behind the From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration Museum and the Memorial to Peace and Justice, commemorating more than 4,000 individuals who were lynched in 12 southern states between 1877 and 1950. Stevenson is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and a law professor at the New York University School of Law.
“Bryan is a courageous, transformational leader and a stalwart advocate for justice who has done an extraordinary amount to challenge the legacy of racial inequality in this country,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “It is a boon to our entire organization to have his passion, perspective, and intellect on our board.”
Stevenson began representing death row inmates in court in 1985, while serving as a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. That work inspired his founding, four years later, of the Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to strengthen the system of public defense and protect the rights of defendants who are too often denied proper representation. His powerful 2012 TED talk, "We Need to Talk about an Injustice," illuminates his lifelong commitment to criminal justice reform and has been viewed more than 5 million times. Last year, a profile of Stevenson in the New Yorker showed how his dedication to civil rights and criminal justice has fueled his devotion to building a memorial to the victims of lynching. “It’s a direct line from slavery to the treatment of black suspects today, and we need to acknowledge the shamefulness of that history,” Stevenson told journalist Jeffrey Toobin.
Widely admired, Stevenson has received many distinctions and accolades over his career. He was named a MacArthur Foundation “genius” in 1995, received the ACLU’s National Medal of Liberty in 1991, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. In 2011, the Ford Foundation honored him with a Visionaries Award for his work challenging the injustice of poverty. Stevenson also served on former president Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and has successfully argued several cases in the US Supreme Court, including one culminating in a historic 2012 ruling on unconstitutional prison sentences for children 17 or younger.
“I'm delighted to join in the work of the Ford Foundation, which has a long history of supporting innovative human rights and social justice advocacy around the world,” Stevenson said. “This is a challenging time in the long struggle for basic rights for all people, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to join with respected advocates, philanthropists, and leaders in the Ford Foundation universe.”
Stevenson earned a BA from Eastern College, an MPP from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and a JD from Harvard University. He has received 26 honorary degrees, from institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, and Washington University.
Ford Foundation trustees are elected by the full board and serve six-year terms. Trustees set broad policy relating to grant making, geographic focus, investments, governance, and professional standards, and they oversee internal and independent audits. The foundation’s trustees hail from four continents and have extensive experience in the worlds of higher education, business and finance, technology, law, government, and the nonprofit sector.