Getting Proximate

Submitted By:
Christopher R. Mizell, Town School for Boys, San Francisco, CA

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, January 1, 2015

Just Mercy is the nonfiction account of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization created to defend falsely accused prisoners on death row, many of whom are poor and/or children. Bryan Stevenson uses his storytelling prowess to present a few seminal cases, deftly weaving in American history, information about the justice system, and personal reflection. As Kenji Yoshino did in his book Covering (2006), Stevenson shows that “We are all broken by something,” and in turn, "Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving.” Stevenson’s insistence that we “get proximate” to suffering is a fundamental insight for educators who teach the importance of connecting to a purpose bigger than one’s self, and who emphasize courage and persistence in the face of difficulty. For educators interested in equity and for teachers of American history, on the other hand, Just Mercy provides a real life account of the implications of Reconstruction era legislation and its effects on American citizens. Finally, for those educators seeking to connect to a generation of increasingly empathetic and passionate millennials, Just Mercy reveals how, as Stevenson puts it, "There is work to do.”

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