It might be tempting to believe that race and justice issues don’t affect those of us so far removed from the South. Bryan Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” proposes a different perspective.
Stevenson’s book, which includes first-person accounts of people and cases that he worked on as a lawyer, was selected as the WSU 2015 common reading book and has been the basis of classroom discussions and campus programming. Stevenson is also a social justice activist and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala.
“His work glaringly points out that when our institutions of support such as public education, mental health and social services are under-resourced and politically minimized, it is the criminal justice system that is left to fill the void,” said Faith Lutze, a professor in criminal justice at WSU, in an email interview. “Criminalizing poverty, mental illness and drug addiction is not a solution to these complex issues.”
Although Stevenson’s book focuses on cases in the southern U.S., issues of race are present in our region, though typically in more subtle ways, said Jeff Guillory, director of diversity education at WSU. Guillory grew up as an African American in the segregated South in Houston and moved to Moscow in 1967 when he received a football scholarship to the University of Idaho.
“I experienced different treatment up here,” Guillory said. “It was friendlier and more inviting, but I found there was a lot of institutional racism up here.”
He noticed that there were very few people of color in higher positions; he devoted his career path to changing that.
“My job is making people aware of personal tendencies towards bias. Stereotypes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Guillory said.
Guillory’s work extends into the community where he offers diversity training in workplaces, including the campus and Pullman police, who he asserted are among the most understanding, inclusive and fair-minded in the area.
And it’s work that must continue on a national scale, Guillory said, noting Stevenson’s book focuses on the judicial systems and “turns the proverbial rock over” to reveal that things haven’t changed much over the years.
“We’re creating a path for black men, especially, to get into the prison system and make it hard to get out,” Guillory said. “The system is set up that these guys become modern-day slaves.”
Many are unaware of the issue and that’s the point of Stevenson’s visit, Guillory said. It’s an opportunity for those who don’t know the history on this issue or who haven’t seen it first hand to hear Stevenson’s story.
The public event will be followed by a book signing.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Common Reading Invited Lecture by Bryan Stevenson
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Beasley Coliseum on the Washington State University campus