Google gives $1M to Bryan Stevenson’s racial justice effort

SAN FRANCISCO — is teaming with Bryan Stevenson and his non-profit Equal Justice Initiative to push America to confront its violent racial history.

The philanthropic arm of the Internet giant says it will help bring online the public education programs on racial justice developed by this Harvard-educated lawyer and author of the bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption so that millions of people can be exposed to them. And is giving $1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative to support Stevenson’s broader efforts to create civil rights landmarks such as the nation’s first lynching memorial and memorial markers at lynching sites.

“Our mission statement is universal access to information and knowledge for everyone. I think what’s exciting about what EJI is doing is that at a national level it is really trying to tell the untold history around race in this country and help people develop a deeper understanding for the narrative around race and how we have gotten to where we are,” said Justin Steele, a principal with and the Bay Area and racial justice giving lead. made the announcement at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters during an event with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and hosted by Alphabet executive David Drummond to celebrate Black History Month and the company’s African-American employees known as the Black Googler Network. Stevenson gave a 20-minute talk on how the Google grant will help further his work.

The great-grandson of slaves who was raised in a racially segregated area of rural Delaware has for decades challenged racial bias and economic inequities in the nation’s criminal justice system, coming to the aid of condemned prisoners and exonerating innocent ones and fighting to end life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders.

Last year, Stevenson spoke of that work at Google Zeitgeist, the company’s annual conference for customers and other guests. Afterward, he spoke privately with top executives. Soon Steele says his phone lit up with messages: “Are we funding him?”

“We realized we are not going to make progress on race, racial equality and justice until we change the temperature outside the courtroom, until we create a different kind of conversation and we are really committed to that,” Stevenson said in an interview.

“What Google allows us to do is not only to have resources that can really advance our work in this area but Google is also going to be a really important partner. They have the skills and the knowledge and the innovative techniques to allow us to do this work in a way that engages a broad cross section of our nation.”

“We have been looking for ways to amplify that information, that work, that voice, that narrative. I can’t think of an entity in the world that is better at amplification than Google. For us, this is a dream come true. We imagine that we can innovate together in this area of racial justice and that’s incredibly exciting.”

The grant is another bold step from Google which has begun taking a rare public stand on racial justice for a major technology company.

In November, made a first wave of racial justice grants, giving $2.35 million to community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that are taking on systemic racism in America’s criminal justice, prison and educational systems.

This week, made four more grants, totaling $3 million. The Equal Justice Initiative was the only national non-profit, the others are all organizations in the Bay Area working to eliminate racial disparities in education.

Roses in Concrete, a school in East Oakland whose name was inspired by the book of poetry based on the writings of Tupac Shakur, will receive $750,000 for its work in “community responsive” teaching.

My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper initiative, a local version of President Obama’s call for action to help increase opportunities for African-American youth, will receive $1 million for its work to give high school seniors the resources they need to pursue a college education.

Beyond12 will receive $250,000 to increase the number of low-income and first-generation students from underrepresented backgrounds who graduate from college through a personalized coaching and tracking service that gives them the academic, social and emotional support they need.

The racial justice grants were born out of a growing consensus inside Google that it must respond to the police slayings of African Americans and the fatal shooting of nine African Americans by a white supremacist in a Charleston, S.C., church.

“Incidences of racial violence have again dominated our headlines, with the killing of young men like Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis, the deaths of Michael Brown and Sandra Bland, and countless other acts of injustice,” Steele wrote in a blog post announcing the grants. “And it isn’t just heartbreaking individual stories.The data is troubling: African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. An estimated 40 percent of all students expelled from U.S. schools are black, and 30 percent are Latino. Of course, Google and our own industry need to do more to promote equality and opportunities for all.”

“Social innovators can help us move closer to our ideals of equality and justice,” he wrote. “That’s why last year launched a new, dedicated effort to support leaders who are doing critical work to end mass incarceration and combat endemic educational inequality for black and brown students.”

Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn@jguynn

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