“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” --Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his 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. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
All rising High School students are required to read the original, full-length version of Just Mercy (ISBN 9780812984965).
Bryan Stevenson 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.
All rising Junior School students may read either the original full-length version of Just Mercy OR the version of Just Mercy that has been adapted for young adults (ISBN 9780525580065 OR ISBN 978-0593177044).
Founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer and bestselling author of Just Mercy, EJI is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. They challenge the death penalty and excessive punishment and provide re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.
Each boy in grades seven through twelve is required to complete the All School Read. This year the book is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. All students will take a quiz on this book the first week of school. They can also voluntarily complete a project on Just Mercy for extra credit. Note that junior school students have the option to read the young adult version of the book.
Any student who would like to submit an additional assignment for extra credit can choose one of the following options. He should submit this assignment to his English teacher on the first day of classes.
1. A written response, chosen from the topics far below (note the directions)
2. An artistic response: In a drawing, painting, collage, or sculpture, depict a motif or theme in the book that shows you have read the story closely [note: no photographs unless you are crafting a carefully created collage]. Your response cannot be a simple sketch on a sheet of printer or notebook paper. Your response should show the creative process that led to your artwork. Include a 200-word typed artist's statement which describes the ideas or conflicts that inspired you to generate this work.
3. A videotaped response to the book, whether in the form of a short movie or else an interview with someone with a special connection to the legal system (in regards to incarceration and/or capital punishment).
Written Response Questions
Directions: Write a two-page, double-spaced, 12-point font, multi-paragraph essay (approximately 600 words) on ONE of the following topics. Include a title page.
1. Walter McMillian’s case is the main focus of Just Mercy, but Bryan Stevenson also tells stories about many other clients he meets. Which one of these client’s stories had the most effect on you? What struck you as significant or made you reflect a while about that person?
2. Bryan Stevenson and his colleagues face an incredible amount of challenges in their work. What qualities do they possess that make it possible for them to face these challenges? Name two or three qualities and provide specific examples of how Stevenson or others demonstrate them.