Book Report: Just Mercy

I first heard about Bryan Stevenson’s work when I was working at the Kasungu District Prison in Malawi. I discovered his TED Talk and promptly shared it widely. As I am sharing it with you, now…

I watched that talk while working in the Kasungu District prisons and was immediately humbled by the enormity of his work. I became more familiar with him while working at Partners In Health as he is one of the PIH board members. I didn’t get around to reading his book, Just Mercy, until several years later. What was I waiting for?!

That should ring as not only an endorsement but a call to action…march down to your library and check it out! You won’t regret it.

Mr. Stevenson represents those on death row, who are overwhelmingly African American. In the book, he shares the arc of his life and tells the compelling story of how he started the Equal Justice Initiative. Equal Justice Initiative “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society”. Bryan Stevenson fights racism and injustice as a part of his minute-to-minute work.

The story is important. In fact, I wish that we could have a national book club so that we could collectively examine our values and priorities. Stevenson writes, “presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.” He recounts the stories of a few of his cases–children tried as adults, people sentenced to death row with scant evidence that they were even at the scene of the crime. The stories made me want to celebrate those who made it OFF of death row, lay at the feet of Mr. Stevenson, and, of course, call my Senators (they are on speed dial lately!). Of course. Mr. Stevenson and his team are vigilant in their commitment to this work and, yet, they are only able to work with a fraction of the people who need his activism, representation, and his ardent belief that wrongs can be righted.

Read this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

I’ll end this with a line from Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, one that always moves me and inspires me. I hope it evokes the same feelings in you…

 “We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering. Because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. It’s just taught me very simple things. I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law. I also believe that in many parts of this country, and certainly in many parts of this globe, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I don’t believe that. I actually think, in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice. “

PS: A movie about Bryan Stevenson just came out–Have you seen it yet? I can’t wait!

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