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'Just Mercy' Delivers Many Messages Amid a Range of Emotions

Posted on April 20, 2021 in: School News

'Just Mercy' Delivers Many Messages Amid a Range of Emotions

Catholic Social Teaching promotes the dignity of the human person. We are all created in God’s image. Our actions toward others must always be rooted in Christ’s love.

With that in mind, Xavier High School students, faculty and staff viewed the film “Just Mercy” as part of a racial respect program designed by the Diversity Committee, chaired by Brother Philip Revell, C.F.X., and social studies teacher Jim Royce ‘99. The movie was shown in small groups, which also met to talk about what they saw, and how they felt.

How many messages can you take out of the movie “Just Mercy?”

Too many to count, really, but enough to make you think about a lot of things.

“I thought the day was a great opportunity for the Xavier students, faculty and staff to step out of our comfort zones just enough to begin a discussion about some of the social ills that our society faces,” Royce said.  

“As a Christian community, it’s important that we take the time to acknowledge the social justice issues of our time and work to fix them.  The best way to begin addressing issues such as these is to engage the whole community in an open and honest conversation about them, and that was the Diversity Committee’s main goal of the day.”

How many emotions are there when watching “Mercy?” Too many to count, really, and they run the gamut. 

The film is about Harvard graduate Bryan Stevenson, who chooses to work in Alabama “defending those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian's life.” 

It is also a movie about what it is like to be on death row; a movie about a corrupt political and justice system; a movie about never giving up, and a movie showing it’s never too late to do the right thing.

“We chose the film so that we could look at the experience of racial minorities in the criminal justice system,” Brother Philip said. “The film and the discussion groups were in that context: What does the Church want us to do as Catholics in response to racial injustice in America? The whole exercise was to try and raise awareness that there is a problem and we as Catholics should be concerned about it and do what we can to bring about change.”

The film is based on a true story. And in the end Walter McMillian is freed as an innocent man.

“You’re upset about how people are treated,” said one student, “and then other parts make you happy.”

You’re frustrated, sad, angry that this could happen. Yet you’re happy that justice prevails. Happy that some of the characters change for the better as time goes on. Mercy and compassion take hold.  

But as another student said, “What about the people it didn’t work out for?”

That is evident in a statistic at the end of the film: “For every nine people who have been executed in the U.S., one person on death row has been exonerated and released, a shocking rate of error.”

The movie leaves you shaking your head.

“It gives you a more in-depth perspective, and you understand more of what can actually happen, and how bad it can be,” one student said.

Said another: “It helps you realize … I can never know the little things [minorities] go through, but if I understand the big things it will make it easier to understand the small things.”

By Jeff Otterbein

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