Why does Sewanee need Just Mercy?

Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Photo courtesy of google.com.

By Klarke Stricklen
Contributing Writer

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s award-winning memoir, was named this year’s common book for the class of 2022. Stevenson’s story is one for all people. The book highlights the social injustice embedded within America’s justice system and allows the reader a short glimpse into the lives of his clients.

Throughout Just Mercy, Stevenson provides many different profiles of prior clients who were targeted due to their race, financial status, or gender. Stevenson’s mission is one that not only highlights the past but allows us to question where the future will take us.

A panel of faculty members discussed the social issues surrounding the stories within the book earlier this semester. Many questions were asked in connection with today’s political climate and what Stevenson meant by the title Just Mercy.

In a follow-up interview with one of the faculty panelists, Dr. Courtney Thompson, she and The Purple discussed why the common board decided on Just Mercy.

Last year, the common book selected was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. In terms of style, these texts are written quite differently, but thematically they are in conversation with each other about critical issues such as identity, criminality, power, privilege, white supremacy, resistance, and agency,” Thompson said.

Many of the issues Thompson touched on were discussed with students in open groups with their orientation leaders. Students were asked to reflect on what they had read and provide individual insight on how the book made them feel.

For a majority of individuals, these stories provided their first insight into the world of injustice. Students declared their sympathy toward these characters and confessed a sense of guilt for these wrongdoings.

However, in the same setting, students of color expressed a different view on the matter. For many, these stories felt closer to home than most. They are often a reality they experience every day, whether on TV or in their own neighborhoods.

Being a person of color in America, from my personal experience, means that the implications of social injustice affect you each and every day when you see someone that looks like you killed due to police brutality, wrongly convicted, over-sentenced, or judged unfairly for practicing their constitutional right to peacefully protest.

Allowing both points of view within the same discussions allowed students to see a variety of opinions. For some students, it was the simple acknowledgment that their perfect world was not as perfect as they had grown up believing it was. It allowed others to explain a side that is often misunderstood or unheard.

Jackson Harwell (C’22) commented, “Just Mercy not only equips us with the information necessary to have these conversations, but it also encourages us to create a safe space for conversation.”

Considering the times that we live in, students need to hear a side other than their designated media outlet or family opinions. College is the time to formulate your own ideas and values aside from what you have been raised to believe.

I hope that Just Mercy will not be just another book that was discussed and then forgotten but will be a start toward finding one’s self and finding the ability to reject conformity and start on a path of individuality.

One comment

  1. I read “Just Mercy” before the semester began along with my incoming freshperson. The book was certainly eye-opening, devastating, and a vital, important read! I passed it on to my gentleman friend, and then to my 83-year old mother. As a privileged white woman living in a less-than-diverse community “bubble” up north, these are the kinds of initiatives that make us so very glad our college student chose Sewanee. Way to go UoS! Keep you finger on the pulse, and your students (and their extended families), indeed, the entire Cumberland Gap region, challenged with difficult truths. Knowledge is the first step towards change.

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