Sunday, September 20, 2015

“Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption”

In the early 1980s Bryan Stevenson was studying at Harvard Law School and working on a graduate degree at the Kennedy School of Government. He was not the child of privilege; he “grew up in a poor, rural, racially segregated settlement” in Delaware, and the prestigious schools he was attending seemed disconnected from his deep interest in “America’s history of racial inequality and the struggle to be equitable and fair with one another.”

Then he met Steve Bright, director of the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, who told him: “Capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get the punishment.” Something connected. Later, “I was in my late twenties and about to start my fourth year at the SPDC when I met Walter McMillian. … Even though he had lived in Monroe County his whole life, Walter McMillian had never heard of Harper Lee or To Kill a Mockingbird.” Walter was on death row in Alabama, convicted of murder. And he was innocent.

Stevenson’s efforts on Walter’s behalf stretched over years, and form the backbone of his riveting account of “Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption” ($16 in paperback from Spiegel and Grau; also for Amazon Kindle). It has been selected as this year’s Book In Common.

Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and his honors include a MacArthur “genius” grant.

The story he tells is bleak. In America, he writes, “incarceration became the answer to everything—health care problems like drug addiction, poverty that had led someone to write a bad check, child behavioral disorders, managing the mentally disabled poor. ….”

But there is hope through “just mercy.” “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”

The Book In Common community kickoff event is Thursday, September 24, from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at Chico City Plaza. Chico State University ( and Butte College ( are holding campus activities throughout the academic year as well.

The author is scheduled to speak at the BMU Auditorium on the university campus April 19, 2016.

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