When Bryan Stevenson moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Montgomery, Alabama to begin the work that would later inspire the 2019 film Just Mercy he did so, as the story goes, with little more than a soccer ball.
Before law school at Harvard, Stevenson played soccer at Cape Henlopen High School and continued his athletic career both on the soccer pitch and baseball diamond at Eastern University (then Eastern College). He was on Eastern’s soccer team from 1977-1980.
Stevenson is portrayed in Just Mercy by Michael B. Jordan, who wears an Eastern Eagles shirt in a scene where he’s talking to his mother on the front porch of their Delaware house before packing up his car to move to Alabama. Stevenson’s older brother, Howard Stevenson Jr., makes a brief appearance in the scene, portrayed by his son, Bryan G. Stevenson.
An accomplished professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Howard Stevenson was an All-American soccer player at Eastern and still plays in adult leagues at YSC Sports. He appears in the 2019 documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality.
Based on the 2014 book with the same name, Just Mercy chronicles Bryan’s early years in Alabama setting up the Equal Justice Initiative and representing inmates on Death Row.
One of the wrongfully convicted inmates he’s working with named Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) asks Bryan why he is down in Alabama working for people who can’t pay him in a powerful exchange.
“I grew up down a road just like yours, played soccer in a dirt field with pigs and chickens, used to pump sewage from my yard,” Bryan says. “When I was a teenager my grandfather was murdered over a black and white TV. We kept waiting for someone to show up to help and they never did and that’s when I realized outside my community nobody cared because to them he was just another black man killed in the projects. I know what it’s like to be in the shadows. That’s why I’m doing this.”
“That’s a pretty good reason,” McMillan says.