In November, sixty students from NYU Law and other New York University graduate schools spent two days in Montgomery, Alabama, visiting the offices of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and several historical sites as part of the course “Narrative Strategies for Racial Justice and Equality,” taught by Bryan Stevenson, University Professor and Aronson Family Professor of Criminal Justice.
Stevenson founded EJI in 1989 after working as a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. The nonprofit organization provides legal representation to individuals who have been wrongfully convicted, subjected to unjust sentences, or mistreated within state correctional facilities. In 2018, EJI opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to victims of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the Legacy Museum, which recounts the history of slavery and continuing forms of racial injustice in the United States.
The students visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice and previewed the soon-to-open Freedom Monument Sculpture Park. Two formerly incarcerated men, released through EJI’s efforts, spoke to the group: Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row after being wrongfully convicted of two murders, and Ian Manuel, sentenced to life without parole for a robbery attempt when he was 13. The students also met with JoAnne Bland, co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and a civil rights activist who was pivotal to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.
“Visiting the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Sites and listening to Bryan Stevenson, Anthony Ray Hinton, Ian Manuel, and JoAnne Bland speak was a deeply emotional and significant experience,” says Addison Jeske ’24. Kaya Lawrence ’24 says that she also found the visit to the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice deeply moving: “[The experience] reminded me of the necessity of confronting our nation’s violent history in order to make true progress in our society.” She adds, “Bryan Stevenson illustrated beautifully the importance of first-person account in overall narrative strategy—a valuable lesson to me as a future public defender.”
Posted on November 27, 2023