Note: like all interest pages, they are to be used at the discretion of the parent, but for this movie it is probably best for pre-teens and teenagers, or just teenagers, but not young children.
Art & Design
Listen: Listen to the soundtrack of the movie to be better acquainted with the musical legacy of black America.
Careers & Life Callings
Follow Instructions: The thing that helped Bryan Stevenson defeat the odds the most with his career was his Harvard education. What does it take to get into Harvard? Here are wikiHow’s steps to take for that.
Research: Bryan Stevenson has found an abundance of meaning in his life fighting this injustice, starting where he found it greatest. Alabama never freed a single inmate from death row before Bryan Stevenson accomplished that with Walter McMillian. There is still a lot of work to do. For every nine people who have been executed in the US, one person on death row has been proven innocent and released, like Ray Hinton‘s release after 30 years of innocent incarceration. If a career like this interests you, research what a career in criminal justice looks like.
Research: One thing victims of injustice must endure for long periods of time is stress. People who endure a life of stress have increased risk of heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, etc. Read more about it in order either to reduce all sources of stress that you can in your life or to better appreciate the importance of helping others.
Language & Thinking
Children & Teenagers
Read: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is internationally-renowned as one of the best literary works ever written. Its message resonates with the reality presented in Just Mercy.
Children & Teenagers
Use the Socratic Method: In multiple instances, Bryan Stevenson is recommended by people working in Alabama’s justice system to visit the museum commemorating the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Why was he uncertain how to respond to these invitations? What about it was weird to him? Here is the synopsis of To Kill a Mockingbird: “A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.” – Amazon. These people were fondly touting their local literary history while overlooking the very reality of this book’s message within the very system they work in.
Speaking & Listening
Discuss: Herbert Richardson’s last day of life was a surreal experience. What would you think about on your last day? What would your last words be? His were “I have no ill feeling and hold nothing against anyone.”
Viewing & Observing
Watch: CBS 60 Minutes featured the true story behind Just Mercy to shed light on Alabama’s death row to their network. This video is 15 minutes long, though.
Biology & Human Body
Read: One of the most unfortunate aspects of a problematic justice system is the number of years it takes away from innocent or wrongfully-convicted lives. Learn more about human aging in this article to understand more fully what time cannot give back to us and not to take your freedom for granted.
Civics & Government Studies
Read: To learn a lot more about Bryan Stevenson’s experiences and to get a more complete account of the cases presented in the movie, read his book.
Teach: The 13th amendment of the US Constitution states, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The movie shows how this has produced an incentive to convict black men of crimes so they can be take part in the work.
Watch: Leading justice reformer, Bryan Stevenson, gave this TED talk on great injustices toward low-income and minority Americans found in our criminal justice system.
Philosophy & Logic
Teach: White supremacy is defined by Oxford languages as, “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” Just Mercy explores the ways it is manifested in America’s justice system. Black men in 20th century Alabama who stand out of line are punished, guilty from the moment they’re born, and witnesses can make up a story that condemns them to jail. Understanding the thinking behind white supremacy can help combat its evils today, too.
Children & Teenagers
Create a Teachable Moment: We don’t always have to view people who have committed terrible crimes with harshness. Herbert did kill a girl, but it wasn’t his intent to. Bryan told him “There’s always something that we can do. Whatever you did, your life is still meaningful and I’m going to do everything possible to keep them from taking it.”
Children & Teenagers
Create a Teachable Moment: We don’t have to take the lead role on our work. Being someone’s right-hand assistant can make the difference between success and failure and is just as vital. There is plenty of honor in that. Eva also cared to defend the constitutional rights of the poor and unprivileged, even if she lacked a law degree.
Teach: The first time Bryan entered the jail, the security guard asked in doubt, “You really are a lawyer?” Then he humiliated Bryan with a nude strip search. The other cop, knowing it was illegal, looked the other way. Bryan meekly endured it in order to bring justice to wrongfully-convicted inmates. Eventually the same racist cop was changed by Bryan. He witnessed Herbert Richards’ goodness before his brutal execution and saw the innocence of Johnny D. To everyone’s surprise, the guard invited Johnny D’s family to visit with him before driving him back to the jail. His countenance toward Johnny D changed. Despicable racism can be washed out of people’s hearts through goodness.
How else might important subject matter be learned from this interest topic? Comment below! Half-baked ideas are more than welcome, too.