Author, lawyer addresses social inequality in justice system at diversity symposium

Author Bryan Stevenson discussed issues of social justice in the U.S. justice system Thursday evening during his keynote speech at the Lory Student Center Theatre.

This event was a part of Colorado State University’s diversity symposium and partnered with and Morgan Library’s Evening with an Author Series.


Stevenson is a lawyer as well as an author. In his speech, he touched on many national issues involving injustice and told stories of his personal experiences as a lawyer.

“One of the challenges we have in this country is that we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty, than if your poor and innocent,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson suggested four actions people must take in order to increase justice:

He said people must get closer to the problems. Stevenson said citizens need to get closer to the places with poverty and neglect, and go into prisons. He said he believes people cannot really help until they get closer and really understand the problem.

Stevenson’s second point was that the narratives that support inequality and injustice need to change. He said that fear and anger are what create oppression.

He said the nation is burdened by its history and treating different races unfairly.

“Because we didn’t deal with the true evil of America slavery in the 13th amendment, I don’t think slavery ended in 1865, I think it just evolved,” Stevenson said.

Bryan Stevenson, a prestigious lawyer, social justice activist, and author of Just Mercy gives a speech Thursday evening at the LSC. (Michael Berg | Collegian)
Bryan Stevenson, a prestigious lawyer, social justice activist and author of “Just Mercy,” gives a speech Thursday evening at the LSC. (Michael Berg | Collegian)

Stevenson’s final point was that people must be willing to do uncomfortable things in order to fight injustice. He told a story of case he took on of a mentally ill man that was sentenced to the death penalty. Stevenson explained that it is illegal to sentence someone mentally ill to the death penalty and he fought this all the way to the supreme court.

In the end, the courts ruled it was too late, and the man would die. Stevenson said he was on the phone with the man, and his last words to Stevenson were that he loved him for trying to save his life. At that point, Stevenson almost quit, but he decided to continue to fight for justice.

“I work in a broken system,” Stevenson said. “The people in power are unwilling to get proximate and they’re locked into narratives of anger and fear. They will not be hopeful and they won’t do anything uncomfortable.”


At the end of his speech, Bryan Stevenson received a standing ovation and long applause. Some audience members were in tears.

“Bryan is an amazing storyteller,” said Lauren Ryan, a Ram Events employee. “He spoke of injustices (that) he and his clients experienced, and it truly hurt my heart.”

Bryan Stevenson graduated from Harvard Law in 1985 and has been representing death row inmates in the deep south ever since. He wrote a personal memoir that became a New York Times Bestseller, “Just Mercy.”

“This was a conversation about necessary social engagement,” said Kent Washington, junior theatre major.

Collegian reporter Julia Currier can be reached at