Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer and the author of this year’s “One Book, One Richmond” book, is visiting campus on Monday evening as the keynote speaker for what has been one of the most successful years for the program yet.
Every year, a committee with representatives from each of the five academic schools including staff and students come together to select a book based on a relevant social justice issue. This year’s book by Stevenson, “Just Mercy,” has generated a greater ripple through campus than previous books.
Stevenson has devoted his life to fighting socioeconomic and racial discrimination in the justice system. His book describes death row inmates he has defended in the past, including those that were wrongfully convicted or juvenile. He has spoken on “The Daily Show” and a TED talk, and also founded the “Equal Justice Initiative.”
For events such as this one, tickets typically open to university staff and students a week prior to becoming available to the general public. This time, however, all of the tickets were gone before the week was over. Camp Concert Hall in Modlin Center for the Arts, which seats 585 people, is completely sold out.
“When the general public calls, I tell them that there may still be standby tickets on a first come first serve basis, but I have never seen a speaker sell out like that before,” said Molly Field, Community Engagement Program Manager at the Office of the Chaplaincy.
Although taking part in the One Book, One Richmond program is optional for most students on campus, Field estimates there are around 600 students participating in the program this year. There are also four classes in the Jepson School of Leadership that have added it to their course curriculum.
Maggie Johnson, a sophomore in one of the leadership courses, said that she is very excited to see Stevenson speak because his experience working within the justice system has demonstrated just how much that system has failed millions of Americans. She also believes that he has a unique gift of the ability to inspire the social change initiative in people.
Throughout the year, the Office of the Chaplaincy has held other events for students participating in the program or that may have interest in the subject. One of the events that Field found the most interesting was when a Virginia State Executioner came and spoke on what it is like to end someone’s life.
The Richmond Law School has also embraced Stevenson’s book and the messages it sends to students.
“Mr. Stevenson is making a separate visit to the law school to talk about his career,” said Mary Tate, director of the School of Law’s Institute for Actual Innocence. “Many of our students see him as an incredible role model, and the entire school is thrilled to hear him speak on his remarkable life and career.”
After Stevenson’s visit, the Office of the Chaplaincy has one more event that students can partake in before the program ends.
There will be a CCE Brown Bag Discussion called “Incarceration to Civil Society: Supporting a Just Re-Entry” at 12:30 p.m. on April 1 in the Tyler Hanes Commons, Room 305.
Contact reporter Jennie Trejo at firstname.lastname@example.org.