ISSUED: 9 September 2016
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University will delve into the issue of race relations and how African Americans fare in the legal system with this year’s Common Reading “Just Mercy.” Author Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that provides legal representation to people who have been wrongly convicted, received unfair sentences, or were abused in jails and prisons.
The book is the true story of Walter McMillian, who was sentenced to death row for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit. It was one of Stevenson’s first cases. Everyone at Shepherd is encouraged to read “Just Mercy,” and professors are asked to incorporate the theme of the book into their classes.
The Common Reading Program has scheduled a series of events throughout the semester that is designed to create conversation. The Common Reading Program is made possible through the support of the Shepherd University Foundation. All events are free and open to the public. They include:
- Tuesday, September 13, 7:30 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium—A student panel discussion, “Black Voices on Campus: Common Issues and Divergent Perspectives,” focusing on the experiences and perspectives from students and staff about what it is like to be black on campus. Co-sponsored by Student Activities and Leadership, Common Reading, Black Student Union, and Multicultural Student Affairs.
- Wednesday, September 14, 12:30 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium—“A White Historian Reads Black History” by Susan Strasser, Richards Professor of American History Emerita at the University of Delaware. As a 15-year-old during the Civil Rights Movement, Strasser picketed Woolworth’s in her hometown in support of the sit-ins at lunch counters across the South and stood on the National Mall to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., describe his dream. Today, in response to the murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and to the Black Lives Matter movement, Strasser seeks to use her skills as a prize-winning historian to address issues of contemporary racism. This talk is part of Shepherd’s Lifelong Learning program.
- Thursday, September 15, 10-11 a.m. and 12-4 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education—“Talking About Race and Policing Through Community Dialogue: Constructive Conversations about Critical Issues,” a Sites of Conscience facilitated workshop. There will be a public session from 10-11 a.m. in the auditorium where audience members can learn more about the work of the nonprofit organization, Sites of Conscience. Participants can dig deeper into issues of race, policing, and the criminal justice system during a facilitated workshop from 12-4 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Common Reading Program with support from the Shepherd University Foundation, Ezekiel’s Place, the Student Center, and the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Registration is required for the workshop and lunch. To register, visit https://shepherd.collegiatelink.net/form/start/108211.
- Tuesday, September 20, 7 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education Auditorium—Tom E. Moses Memorial Constitution Day Lecture featuring Elizabeth Hinton, author of “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.” Hosted by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education with support from the Shepherd University Common Reading Program and Four Seasons Books. To reserve a seat, call 304-876-5648. For more information, visit www.byrdcenter.org/constitution-day.html.
- Thursday, October 6, 6 p.m., Frank Center Auditorium—Speaker Anthony Ray Hinton, who was exonerated in April 2015 after serving 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit, will share his experiences on death row and in solitary confinement, discuss what Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative did to help free him, and the role of race in the American prison and justice system.
- Friday, November 4, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 6, 3 p.m., Reynolds Hall—the Rude Mechanicals Medieval and Renaissance Players will present “Othello” with a special common reading-themed post-play discussion with the cast.
- Wednesday, November 16, 8 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium— “The Return,” a documentary about how prisoners, their families, attorneys, and judges handled the decision by California in 2012 to eliminate the state’s three strikes law. Co-sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education and the Common Reading Program.
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