Summer reading motivates and inspires its readers



“Just Mercy” motivated students to join a protest this October.

As she turned the pages of “Just Mercy” this summer, Junior Delaney Costello was inspired by the words of Bryan Stevenson which guided her to begin making changes in her community. In selecting the summer reading book, librarians said they hoped students would feel motivated, just as Costello did.

Librarians Bridget Knightley and Shelley Mains said they were drawn to the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson when deciding what to assign for the school-wide book over the summer of 2021.

Knightley said “Just Mercy” would reinforce the idea that racism remains far too prevalent in our nation and hoped that students would be motivated by the story.

“I will often hear students argue that racism doesn’t exist anymore or at least not as bad. But when they read “Just Mercy”, they will have to see the institutional racism that does exist and hopefully it will build empathy and motivate them to try and create change,” Knightley said.

On Oct. 16, a group of students arrived at the Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston. Joining other activists in a call for clemency for William Allen, they carried the lessons of Steveson’s “Just Mercy” with them.

Junior Delaney Costello attended the march and said how the book inspired her.

“It made me want to be an activist because it showed how important it is to enter into the fight and how vital each person is to it,” Costello said.

Junior Mya Malek attended the protest on the Boston Common and said it inspired her.

“I realized I always wanted to work with people, helping them get the justice they deserve,” Malek said.

As the school year continues, “Just Mercy” will be integrated into classrooms.

English teacher Sarah Talmadge Nardi said she will facilitate discussions and use the book to further her student’s knowledge of systemic inequity in our nation.

In a previous teaching position, Nardi said she saw the positive impact “Just Mercy” had on her high school students. She said the text was powerful and inspired many to look towards careers in law and criminal justice.

Nardi said she will foster a practice of constant questioning with her students.

“I hope that they think, ‘What is the untold story here? Who gets to speak and who doesn’t get to? Who’s story is told and who’s isn’t? What systems in different institutions are oppressive and how can they disrupt those?’” Nardi said. “Even if they just came away with the question of ‘when I see something that appears to be clearly right or wrong, maybe I don’t know the whole story,’ that would be a really good start.”

“Just Mercy” has already begun to impact a broader population at the high school.

Senior Claire Gallion attended the William Allen protest and said that the book pushed her to look towards the reality of injustices in our judicial system.

“A lot of the time, especially with internet activism, it can become really impersonal and more about clickbait and performative activism. It was really inspirational to see somebody who was doing real work to fight for what he cares about,” Gallion said.

Knightley and Mains are currently devising a plan for student events and lessons that they hope will further student involvement in activism. Mains said she is elated to hear that people have felt encouraged by the story.

“We didn’t want a book where students feel so upset with what’s going on that they feel immobilized,” Mains said. “Because of what Bryan Stevenson was able to do and inspire others to do, it makes people feel as though they have the power to create change, whether as an individual or a part of a movement.”