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

  • 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…

  • 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.  

  • Because we are a society resistant to making necessary changes when they are too expensive (we could gather a long list of this in schools like start times, mental health options, etc.) or when they conflict with deeply engrained (but often false) core beliefs (i.e. our legal system is fair, it's in the bible, etc.). This book and the reality it's based on is the clearest example of systemic racism, and yet still many resist its clear and fact-based glimpse into the mirror that is American society and history. I am hoping to start a conversation on how we here on OER can help educators who invariably get into trouble teaching actual history. See also:

  • Boom! Agreed! And this sort of self-questioning isn't always fun...I know even as I tried to be progressive in my younger years I still played into institutional inequities (ugh my intentions were good but I was missing things nonetheless). Same today, especially when I began to dabble in grading for equity work. I'm going to be chewing on this one for a long time...but its perhaps the most important thing I really made an effort to do last year...confronting my own connections to, as well as the larger ones around me (peers, school boards, etc.) is hard work.

  • Stevenson's stories about the families of incarcerated people are so emotional for me to read. For so many, the legal system seems shrouded in distrust and inaccessibility. Stevenson's mention of how a group of women and children, who were relatives of the victim of a crime, lingered after the court session to ask Stevenson for help. I wouldn't have been so struck by this if Stevenson were the prosecutor, but he was the defense attorney. The fact that these folks thought Stevenson was their best chance for assistance was a glaring indicator of shortcomings in our legal system. These stories make me wonder how I can make changes in my classroom to support students whose families have experienced stress and trauma associated with the legal system?

  • In addition to incarceration of youth, I’d like to know more about the relationship between mental illness and incarceration. @Hajra Saeed, I know you’re an AP Psych teacher as well. Are you able to explore that topic in your class?

  • I teach at a Title 1 school, many of our students are from farm working migrant families, living in poverty amongst gangs and seemingly few avenues  to better their lives. I have often been asked to write letters to probation, parole, or foster youth authorities to vouch for them. Some have been involved in robberies, gun violence, one is currently waiting to be tried for attempted murder, one was the shot caller for a gang. Through all of our interactions in class, II was always aware that they had an edge to them, but they are just kids.

    This passage from Herbert talking to Bryan on the day of his execution explicated for me one of our major societal shortcomings -

    “It’s been so strange, Bryan. More people have asked me what they can do to help me in the last fourteen hours of my life than ever asked me in the years when I was coming up.”

    If we were to shift more resources into developing opportunities and connections for our kids, we would have to use less resources for incarceration and the injustice system. 

    Without too many details, I have lost two family members to violent crime. I have learned more than I care to know about family victims' rights and dealing with police and court authorities from these matters. It is difficult even if a person is educated and has money and resources; without those, it would be nearly unmanageable feat to navigate between the police and the court to see justice done or free an unjustly accused person. This book is helping me to see this clearly.

    It's not right that people of means get a different version of justice than those without.

    I am having difficulty putting the book down.

  • Thanks for that article  . I've been trying to explain this to others a lot lately, "Critical race theory is a college-level discipline that, at core, shows people how racism, bigotry, and sexism are endemic to the institutions and social structures in use right now. It’s just a different way of thinking about why things that we can objectively see happening are happening." Unfortunately, too many people just grab sound bites and viral social media images instead of really trying to understand things. I guess that's our job as teachers, and would be an important OER conversation!

  •  , that's something I would like to learn more about. I didn't teach AP Psych last year and think I need to revisit how I teach some topics this upcoming school year. It's hard getting extra content in beyond the AP, but I think that I could start bringing social relevancy to the curriculum in the form of bellringer activities. Do you have any research studies or projects along these lines?

  •   I felt myself rooting for them, too! There were so many times in the book that I had to stop and shed a few tears. There is so much work to be done, but like you, I try to redirect my attention to what I can do. 

    We have kids from all over town in my school. I think a lot of the kids just don't know what they don't know but are eager to learn. I was party of a superintendant's advisory committee on equity this past year and we had an outside organization survey all middle and high school students in the district. The thing that popped up over and over again was that students in middle and high school wanted more opportunities for dialogue over difficult topics. So for next year, I think that will be my starting point.

  •  , your students are so lucky to have someone who will vouch for them and show empathy for them. I'm sure you have left a lasting impact on many. People like you were missing in so many of the stories shared in the book. I starred that quote, too. We have to do better.

  • @Hajra Saeed, I’ve used the Harvard Implicit Prejudices test every year with my students. It’s such a power tool for demonstrating that bias is more complex than overt actions. Recently, I paired that with a clip from Netflix’s 100 Humans series (love Alan Alda, but his Scientific American Frontier series is getting dated!). That Social Psych unit has been so essential in recent years; I was hesitant to teach it remotely during the spring of 2020 but was so thankful I did as the BLM movement was gaining momentum. 

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