Updated: Jul 22, 2020
A big shout out and thank you to Vicki Byard for organizing two Dear Evanston viewings of 'Just Mercy' at Evanston's Century 12 theatre today and yesterday and a post-movie discussion each day!
Thank you to Shannon Sudduth and Noir d'Ebene Chocolat et Patisserie for catering, and Trenece Owens at the Hilton Garden Inn Chicago North Shore/Evanston for hosting us and providing us a steep discount!
Thanks to the almost 100 folks who braved bad weather (that prevented me from being there!) and joined DE to see this important movie based on the book by Bryan Stevenson about his life and work representing those sentenced to death over the past few decades, primarily in the Deep South.
Stevenson is best known for founding the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama—now home to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration--to which 100 Evanston residents journeyed by bus last September on Dear Evanston's Uncomfortable Journey.
Last month, DE's Racial Justice book group read and discussed the book and heard from Evanstonians Pamela Cytrynbaum of James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy and Betsy Wilson of Sage Mitigation, both of whom work tirelessly to support restorative justice instead of punitive justice.
'Just Mercy' centers on the story of Stevenson's relationship with Walter McMillian, who spent six years on Alabama's death row for a murder he didn't commit.
McMillan's story highlights the racism and systemic wrongs in our legal system—where a black man, accused of killing a white woman, is sentenced to be murdered by the state despite an airtight alibi.
The movie also tells the story of another of Stevenson's clients, also a poor, Black man who is sentenced to die: Herbert Richardson. But Richardson was not innocent.
In a recent essay in 'Newsweek,' Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign For The Fair Sentencing Of Youth, points out:
"Some of the people, like McMillian, who have been egregiously wronged by our justice system are innocent, but it is important to remember that most are not. Stevenson often says that people are more than their worst acts. It is my hope that people who watch 'Just Mercy' will internalize this and leave with a newfound understanding of the ways in which our criminal legal system is overly harsh and punitive, particularly for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us. Only once we recognize the humanity of the children we serve and individuals like Richardson—and the ways in which our society has failed them—can Stevenson's bold vision for justice and mercy be realized."
You can read her entire essay here.
If you've been moved by 'Just Mercy' the book or the movie and want to get involved in efforts to support restorative justice, here are a few local organizations to which you can contribute your time and/or money:
Equal Justice Initiative
Founder: Bryan Stevenson
About: The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
EJI challenges poverty and racial injustice, advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system, and creates hope for marginalized communities.
Founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson, EJI is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. We challenge the death penalty and excessive punishment and we provide re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.
The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy
Executive Director: Patrick Keenan-Devlin
About: The Moran Center provides Evanston youth and their families with the support to successfully emerge from a challenging legal situation, tools to make positive life choices, and the ability to thrive in the Evanston community. The Moran Center's programmatic approach focuses on justice in the courtroom, access to the classroom, and support in the community.
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY)
Founder: Jody Kent Lavi
About: The CFSY utilizes a multi-pronged approach to reform including serving as a hub and convener; engaging key stakeholders; educating target audiences; advocating for reforms; bolstering legal strategies to ban life-without-parole sentences for children; and developing a wide range of partnerships to provide access to resources and opportunities for returning individuals and their families to prosper. We know we are stronger when we are in partnership learning from one another.
Founders: Rick Tulsky and Rob Warden
About: Injustice Watch is a non-partisan, not-for-profit, multimedia journalism organization that conducts in-depth research exposing institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality. Its team of highly accomplished investigative reporters, full-time reporting fellows, and talented interns combines data journalism with conventional reporting to delve far deeper into crucial criminal and social justice issues than can traditional news organizations.
Restore Justice Illinois
Founder: Jobi Petersen Cates
About: Restore Justice Illinois advocates for criminal justice reforms that will make Illinois a more just, compassionate state. is a civic organization founded to mitigate the human and fiscal impact of the extreme sentencing laws of the 1980s and 1990s, particularly where they have impacted children. Its first priority is ending the practice of sentencing children to “life without parole” in Illinois by helping the Illinois General Assembly make good policy based on principled legal analysis, best practices in other states, guidance from the US Supreme Court, and international law.
Coalition to End Money Bond
Members include: ACLU of Illinois; A Just Harvest; Shriver Center on Poverty Law; The People's Lobby; Workers Center for Racial Justice
About: The Coalition to End Money Bond formed in May 2016 as a group of member organizations with the shared goal of stopping the large-scale jailing of people simply because they were unable to pay a monetary bond. In addition to ending the obvious unfairness of allowing access to money determine who is incarcerated and who is free pending trial, the Coalition is committed to reducing the overall number of people in Cook County Jail and under pretrial supervision as part of a larger fight against mass incarceration. The Coalition to End Money Bond is tackling bail reform and the abolition of money bond as part of its member organizations’ larger efforts to achieve racial and economic justice for all residents of Cook County.
If you'd like to join Dear Evanston for our next book group on February 18, please register here. We'll discuss Ibram X. Kendi's 'How to be an Antiracist.'