Civil rights attorney and Milton native Bryan Stevenson made a surprise visit to Milton’s Lydia B. Cannon Museum to see a new exhibit about his life and career.
The exhibit, “Walking Into Greatness: Bryan Stevenson” opened May 25. Stevenson himself was on hand June 5 for a private visit with local school children.
About 20 students were part of the visit, among them, siblings Dylan, Jack and Grace Thomas, who attend The Jefferson School in Georgetown.
Dylan, 13, is the oldest, but he said he learned about Stevenson from his brother, Jack, 10, who had read Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy.” Jack had recommended Dylan read the book too, and Dylan said he was affected by its stories of poor people being jailed unjustly. “It’s definitely a devastating read,” Dylan said.
The siblings take music classes with Stevenson’s sister, Christy Taylor, and their interest in Bryan led to them being selected to attend.
Museum curator Heidi Nasstrom Evans said the visit, which was invitation-only, lasted about 90 minutes, as Stevenson walked in his own footsteps through the exhibit, which juxtaposes his life with the broader civil rights movement. He walked through the exhibit with the kids, who came from schools all over Delmarva, from as far north as Dover and south to Worcester County, Md. Locally, students from Cape Henlopen High School and The Jefferson School attended.
Nasstrom Evans said as Stevenson walked through the exhibit, he talked with the students about what it was like for him growing up in Milton. He told them of when he met Rosa Parks, and answered questions from the students along the way.
The only Cape High student was Hanna Evans, Nasstrom Evans’ daughter, who had seen the exhibit before and read Stevenson’s book. “He was a lot different than I imagined,” Hanna said. “Very humble. He acted like he genuinely cared about what you said to him. He was really tall. He’s done so many good things.”
A sophomore at Cape, Hanna said she found Stevenson’s book inspiring for its selflessness. She said she is very interested in learning more about the civil rights movement and criminal justice. Hanna said her favorite part of the visit was getting to ask Stevenson questions and hear him tell stories.
Besides Stevenson, it was Dylan’s first time to see the exhibit as well. “The amount of information in it is impressive,” he said. The group then came together, and the students asked more questions.
Dylan said at first, he was a bit starstruck meeting Stevenson in person. As the day wore on, though, Dylan said he became more comfortable and started seeing Stevenson as a real person, and not just someone he’s read about.
Following the question-and-answer session, Dylan and his siblings, twins Jack and Grace, picked up their instruments to play “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, a favorite artist of Stevenson and of Dylan. It took the siblings a couple months to learn the song, Dylan said, with Grace on bass, Jack on trumpet and Dylan on keyboards.
“We were glad to get to play it for him,” Dylan said.
The feeling was mutual.
“It's always great to go home to Milton, and I'm very honored that the historical society has created this exhibit. It's humbling,” Stevenson said. “But the highlight of my trip was meeting the wonderful young students who went through the exhibit with me from area middle and high schools. The kids asked amazing questions, and it was a real treat to spend time with them and to see so much talent, potential and promise for our community's future.”