St. Bonaventure has chosen the nonfiction book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson as its common read for 2015-2016. This All Bonaventure Reads selection explores the inequity embedded in the U.S. criminal justice system.
“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” was released in October and focuses mainly on the work of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., a legal practice Stevenson founded as a young lawyer that is dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need.
“Each year, All Bonaventure Reads committee members search for selections guided by descriptors such as ‘engaging,’ ‘contemporary,’ and ‘thought provoking.’ We nailed all three with ABR 2015’s ‘Just Mercy’ selection,” said Jean Trevarton Ehman, chair of the ABR Committee.
“We at St. Bonaventure University pride ourselves in fostering thinking forums in which each student’s opinion is valued; ‘Just Mercy’s’ emotional narrative is ripe with thought-provoking topics. This memoir probes historical and current biases and injustices that cross curricula, and we hope our ‘Just Mercy’ programming engages our freshmen in life-long soul searching based on Franciscan values,” Ehman said.
One of Stevenson’s first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. It transformed the lawyer’s understanding of mercy and justice forever and illustrates numerous ongoing challenges in work advocating for social justice.
Chris Brown, director of the university’s First-Year Experience program, said “Just Mercy” is a timely selection for the campus at large, especially given the ongoing national conversation about race and criminal justice.
“Tensions involving race have been in the forefront of the national media, and the importance of racial justice extends into the day-to-day lives of our student body. We have taken steps in the Bonaventure community to address injustices, and we want to make sure our students are exposed to the need for continued action on the local and national level,” Brown said.
First-year students will receive copies of “Just Mercy” during orientation in July and are asked to read the book prior to the start of the fall semester. Students are engaged in conversations about the book’s themes in their University 101 course and various campuswide events during the upcoming academic year. In addition to the ABR committee and FYE office, numerous academic departments and the Student Affairs Division are already planning opportunities to unpack the themes of this book.
“I am excited to partner with my colleagues across campus to engage the entire Bonaventure community in the All Bonaventure Reads program. We look forward in the fall to announcing a series of events that will address the important topics of racism and equality in the criminal justice system and in society at large,” added Brown.
Stevenson has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. In addition to serving as executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, he is a professor of law at New York University School of Law.
“Just Mercy” has won praise from notable authors including John Grisham and Tracy Kidder.
“Bryan Stevenson … is doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope,” said Grisham.
Learn more about the book and the Equal Justice Initiative at bryanstevenson.com.
Campus programming will be announced at www.sbu.edu/ABR as events are confirmed.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #3 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
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