Just Mercy Book Club // Grab your copy now, and join the conversation!

We are excited to announce our summer OER Conference for Social Studies Book Club pick! This month you are invited to join us in reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, who happens to be our keynote speaker on August 3. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

Our community discussion about Just Mercy will be led by Jayson Wilkinson from the OER Project Team, and Hajra Saeed, BHP teacher in Long Beach, CA.  We’ll kick off with our first book club driving question on July 15 right here in this thread, located in the OER Conference for Social Studies discussion forum. We’ll post a new driving question each Thursday for three weeks leading up to the conference which takes place August 3-5. So don't wait, grab a copy of the book, bookmark this thread so you can return on the 15th, and prepare for some rich discussions with other members of the community. Let the reading begin! 

Just Mercy // Week One Questions

We are excited to start our book club conversation on Just Mercy as we make our way to Bryan Stevenson’s August 3rd keynote address in the OER Conference for Social Studies. Post your thoughts and answers to the questions below, or add your own question.  and  will be leading the conversation and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to the discussion.   

  • Did Just Mercy make you want to explore an aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system more closely? If so, what part and why?  
  • In Just Mercy, Stevenson tells us his story of growth and discovery in relation to his understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system. Have you had a similar journey in your own life? 

Post your comments below and let's get the conversation started!

Just Mercy // Week Two Questions

  • As you are reading Just Mercy, is there a quote that "sticks with you?" Why? 
  • Is there a specific call to action that can be taken from a reading of Just Mercy? If so, what is it? 

Let's continue the conversation by posting in the comments below.

Just Mercy // Week Three Questions

  • How do the topics and concepts in Just Mercy connect to your work with students? 
  • What lessons from Just Mercy or Stevenson are you taking with you as you prepare to welcome students back to our school communities in the fall? 
  • Do know of a specific person (whether they are a personal connection, colleague, or something else) that would benefit from reading and discussing Just Mercy with you? What makes you think that and what lessons might they learn?

Post your response to the questions in the comments below as we complete our final week of the Book Club. Be sure to join us for Bryan Stevenson's Keynote Address on August 3 at 9:00 AM PDT!

Top Replies

  • For me, Just Mercy really pushed me to question my position in institutions. When I started teaching, I think I was comfortable just doing what I was told and keeping my head above water in my new school…

  • Is it possible that I jump on to the Just Mercy Train? I got to the station late, and would love to hop aboard if it is still an option. Can I hop aboard.  

  • The quote that sticks with me is "We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent." It stuck…

  • Just Mercy Week One Questions // 07-15-2021

    Did Just Mercy make you want to explore an aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system more closely? If so, what part and why?  

    In Just Mercy, Stevenson tells us his story of growth and discovery in relation to his understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system. Have you had a similar journey in your own life?

    Post your comments below and let's get the conversation started!

  • I think one of my biggest reasons to oppose the death penalty is that an innocent person could be put to death.  I remember participating in a debate in high school and making that the cornerstone of my argument.  Reading Just Mercy has me thinking about how many other people have been incarcerated unjustly or even punished far too harshly and how we can change things throughout the U.S. Criminal Justice system so that all parties involved can experience justice.  In some ways even a prison sentence can end up being a "death sentence" for someone, completely derailing their life, costing them more money that their entire family has, and imposed on innocent people. Is it possible to create a system that provides everyone involved with justice without the risk of hurting an innocent individual?  

  •  , the life stories shared throughout the book are so heart-wrenching. So many of the incarcerated were robbed of their voice and humanity. Too many people are too quick to judge in their quest for justice or closure.  We have a lot of work to do in building a system that is both just and compassionate.

  • I'm excited to learn from you all in this book discussion. The part of the U.S. criminal justice system I want to learn more about is the incarceration of youth. When young kids are condemned at such an early age, the whole trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families changes. Why aren't we using the brain science we understand about teens  to help them grow instead of just punishing them?

  • For me, Just Mercy really pushed me to question my position in institutions. When I started teaching, I think I was comfortable just doing what I was told and keeping my head above water in my new school. Years later, I still have flashback to moments when I held students accountable with unfair rule systems or assigned tasks with full knowledge that some of my students weren't prepared to complete. One of the bigger messages from the book that I'm taking with me is our obligation to regularly interrogate the structures around us. 

  •  , I love that you add the word compassionate. I was heartbroken reading Just Mercy, and am greatly concerned that our justice system is a reflection of our society. If it is, than the scale of this repair is much larger. My emotions reading Just Mercy went from anger to heart break. I am heartbroken we have a system that treats human beings in such an inhumane way, and angry that we have allowed it to continue. We should strive to help those who are have been dealt so many disadvantages in life, rather than punish, especially children. The question is, can we make these changes on a large scale? The criminal justice system is  a start, but we clearly need to go bigger.

  •    , this is a a great reminder about taking the injustices described in Just Mercy to the classroom level. My first 20 years of teaching were in an upper middleclass school, where students had very few challenges. When I moved schools, I was forced to look closely at my teaching practices. The school I moved to was in transition as the minority enrollment was shifting from 10% - 70%, our Free/Reduced Lunch also took the same shift, parents were working 2 -3 jobs, so students had to miss days if siblings were sick. The number of students who had parents or siblings in prison was huge. My teaching practices had to change and I became a better educator because I was meeting my students where they were. This did not mean I lowered my expectations, instead I had to change my strategies for helping students to reach this bar. Learning is not a one size fits all approach.  You are correct, as educators we do need to constantly examine the situation beyond the classroom walls.

  • I was also thinking along those lines. That our system is a reflection of our society. There is corruption at so many levels our system. I want to think that I can impact the thinking of students in my classes, but with so many other forces beyond my control, it is an uphill battle.

  • Excellent point Jayson. My last school was a middle school that had a huge homeless population and most of our students were on free and reduced lunch. I also had many students whose parents were addicted to drugs, so those students became caretakers for their siblings and parents. I know I made a lot of mistakes as I worked with them to understand how to help them. The biggest lesson I learned early on was the students wanted to be treated like kids and not like trouble makers. They craved the love and respect they deserved, not judgement by outside eyes. Reading the book, like you, reminded me to not be so passive, but to question decisions being made to make sure that the true interests of those kids were being served.

  • First, I could not put this book down once I started reading it.  I was so engrossed with the stories of the incarcerated people and I was rooting for happy endings for all of them.  When I finished the book, I was left with the same feeling of my obligation to question the systems and structures around us. That, however, leaves me feeling overwhelmed and stagnant because I just don't know where to begin.  The question I am continually going back to is - What aspects of my classroom and community need my attention the most so that I can make a positive impact and change those systems and structures that are broken or inequitable? 

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