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The true story of a young attorney who learned the importance of compassion in the fight for justice is UNC-Chapel Hill’s 2015 selection for the Carolina Summer Reading Program.

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson was selected by a nine-person panel consisting of 3 faculty, staff and students each. Stevenson’s book focuses on the story of his client Walter McMillian, a young man who had been sentenced to die for a murder he said he didn’t commit, and how the case transformed how Stevenson would view the legal profession and his place in it. Stevenson went on to found the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that provides free legal representation to those who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.

Frank Baumgartner, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and chair of the committee, said “Just Mercy” was selected not only for the powerful conversations it might inspire, but also for the long-lasting changes its message may bring to students’ lives.

“Bryan Stevenson has worked in Alabama defending those who no one will help: a fourteen year-old boy facing life in prison and being tried as an adult; an innocent inmate seeking release from death row. His story is one of devotion to a group of people it can be hard to love, but who have, in turn, made his life all the more remarkable,” said Baumgartner. “He has inspired people around the country, and with his new book addressing fundamental issues of race, poverty, and the harsh realities of the U.S. criminal justice system, we expect that he will inspire a generation of Carolina students.”

First-year students who will enroll next fall are expected and encouraged to read the book this summer and participate in small group discussions on the Monday before classes start in the fall. The program, now in its 17th year, aims to stimulate critical thinking outside the classroom and give new students intellectual common ground. An academic icebreaker, it encourages students to engage with the scholarly community and come to their own conclusions about the material.

Visit the Carolina Summer Reading Website at

Published February 23, 2015