Now Available: Teaching “Just Mercy” Through the Block’s Collection [PDF]

Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is the One Book One Northwestern reading selection for the 2020-2021 school year. Just Mercy follows Stevenson through the beginning of his career as a lawyer devoted to seeking justice for those who have already been treated unfairly by the judicial system. 

In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson calls on each of us to reckon with the failings of a complex, unfairly harsh, and often unaccountable criminal justice system. This selection of artworks from The Block’s collection reflects on themes, events, and ideas from Just Mercy. Works by ten artists—contemporary and historic—amplify and deepen our engagement with the book by bringing different backgrounds and perspectives into dialogue with it. The artworks address such issues as systemic racism, discrimination, and failures of the justice system, alongside artworks that allow us to reflect on racial and economic injustice and social inequities through a broader lens. 

Just Mercy also reminds us that compassion and empathy are fundamental to our own human dignity.  In connection with the book, the artworks presented speak to Stevenson’s belief that “the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, the condemned.”

We selected a range of artworks from The Block’s collection that reflect and expand upon Just Mercy’s themes, including the humanity and dignity of incarcerated people, the historical precedents for unfair sentencing practices, and the sheer exhaustion of pushing against an unjust system.

Melanie Garcia Sympson, Curatorial Associate

We invite the Northwestern community as well as outside students and educators to use these works as an opportunity to connect to the themes of the text, whether it be through discussion or personal reflection. If you are interested in collaborating with us in your research or teaching, contact Melanie Garcia Sympson at 

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