I reviewed Bryan Stevenson’s well-known book Just Mercy on this station in March of 2015. I explained that Just Mercy is a gripping and painful narrative of challenging the judicial system in an Alabama that’s very deeply entrenched in court-sanctioned prejudice. What I didn’t focus on is Stevenson’s hope and the extensive lesson in civics he delivers.
Stevenson and his editors have developed a new adaptation of Just Mercy for young adult readers. Systemic change in our country takes time, and to show everyone their capacity to effect change is important no matter your age. Engaging youth in working to correct an unequal justice system is paramount for America’s future. Stevenson’s work is an inspiring call to action.
While telling the story of Walter McMillan, a man falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death, Stevenson explains the years he spent getting McMillan the defense and process he deserved. He shows us how diligently and vigorously he worked to achieve change in legislation and to persist against injustice.
Stevenson teaches us that in order to challenge inequality we need to do four things. First, get close to people who have been treated unfairly; second, change the narrative of the history of slavery and the lynching of African Americans; third, don’t give up hope; and finally, make yourself uncomfortable. In the new young readers’ version of Just Mercy, Stevenson states that, “I want young people to struggle against the things that are unjust.” Reading this essential book is a way to start that process.