As part of a yearlong, universitywide Common Book initiative, thousands of incoming Virginia Commonwealth University students will read “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” a 2014 book that tells the true account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, provides a window into the lives of those he has defended, and makes an argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
“Just Mercy” is by Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children in need facing the criminal justice system. It tells the story of one of Stevenson’s first cases, that of Walter McMillian, a young man who had been convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he insisted he did not commit.
“The selection committee thought the compelling and powerful story that Stevenson tells of his path from an undergraduate student to a Harvard Law School graduate’s dedication to serving marginalized communities would engage first-year students, who are on the front end of their own academic journeys and discoveries,” said initiative director Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean of University College and associate professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
The selection committee was also struck by Stevenson’s ability to invite all readers to explore the complexities of mercy and justice in society, and students and faculty alike felt that the book supported VCU’s ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence and creating a welcoming campus for all, Fowler said.