The proposed Bryan A. Stevenson School of Excellence launched a fundraising campaign June 30 at Fairfield Inn in Rehoboth Beach to begin raising seed money for the school to be able to start looking at properties and purchase curriculum.
Officials intend to open the school in 2021. “We really wanted to engage the community,” said Alonna Berry, chairwoman of the school’s board of directors.
The fundraiser included a silent auction for works of art by local artists and gift baskets from area businesses, including Lavender Fields, Dogfish Head, Crooked Hammock, Gilligan’s and Jolly Roger in Ocean City, Md. The most popular offering in the auction was a basket with items from Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, including copies of his book, “Just Mercy,” T-shirts and a gift card. Entertainment was provided by Stevenson’s sister, Christy Taylor, and her group, Shades of Blue.
Berry said the school, a free, public charter school in Sussex County, expects to submit its application to operate to the state at the end of the year. She said the school is working with realtor Lee Ann Wilkinson, a former classmate of Stevenson, to narrow down locations. Berry said the ideal location would be between Cape Henlopen and Indian River high schools.
Janet Maull-Martin, a member of the Cape Henlopen School District board, said the school would provide options in education. Maull-Martin said Stevenson is an example to kids growing up in the Cape Region. “You say, ‘What good can come from Milton or Georgetown?’ A Bryan Stevenson can. And there are so many Bryan Stevensons in our area that even we didn’t realize were there. We are so very proud of him,” she said.
Taylor said her brother would be proud of the school’s progress. “It’s inspiring. He motivates people to do these kinds of acts,” she said. Taylor said her brother was a curious and funny kid growing up. At age 9, he liked to read “Moby Dick” and books by Victor Hugo. He liked to play basketball and soccer, and had what she called a normal childhood. Taylor has come to deeply admire her brother for the person he has become.
“I definitely think he’s a biblical character,” she said. “He’s really driven. He feels a purpose for life, and he’s living it. He’s kind of ordained to do something nobody else would think of doing, that needed to be done.”
A music teacher herself, it was Taylor who developed the idea for a school serving the community. As planned, the school would offer service learning where students learn through community service projects. Taylor said she felt she could not undertake the idea by herself, and she wanted younger people to take the lead in seeing the school through. She’s happy the project has reached this point.
“It’s exciting,” Taylor said.
Stevenson film to be released in January
It has been a busy time for all things Bryan Stevenson.
First, Milton’s Lydia B. Cannon Museum unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the life and career of its hometown hero, an exhibit Stevenson himself got to see. On June 28, HBO unveiled a documentary about Stevenson called “True Justice,” and in January 2020, a film based on his book, “Just Mercy,” will be released, starring Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and also featuring Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx.
The feature film is a particularly heady experience for Stevenson’s family members.
Berry, a cousin of Stevenson, said, “I think it will be cool that the family will get to go to the premiere and meet all these bigger-than-life people.” She said the family is trying to arrange for a premiere at Movies at Midway, where Stevenson’s father worked for 20 years.