One Book One Northwestern: Just Mercy: Block Museum - Northwestern University
Skip to main content

One Book One Northwestern: Just Mercy

Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is the One Book One Northwestern reading selection for the 2020-2021 school yearJust Mercy follows Stevenson through the beginning of his career as a lawyer devoted to seeking justice for those who have already been treated unfairly by the judicial system. Stevenson’s book has prompted a national reckoning with how racism and poverty have so often marred American society.

One Book One Northwestern is a community‐wide reading program hosted by the Office of the President. It aims to engage the campus in a common conversation centered on a carefully chosen, thought-provoking book

The Block Museum is proud to partner with the One Book program for a year of programming and art that explores the themes of this shared text.

"Perhaps now more than ever, Stevenson’s voice needs to be heard. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and other Black Americans at the hands of police violence have ignited a global reckoning with America’s pernicious investment in policing, criminalization, and incarceration. The failure to adequately address the COVID-19 crisis, especially as it devastated vulnerable communities, including prison populations, revealed the nation’s prioritizing of some lives over others. But Stevenson calls us forward to a better, fairer world—one that is more just in being more merciful."

Jennifer Lackey,  Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program, the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University,

Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project: Picturing "The Long Term"

Still from hand-drawn Prison and Neighborhood animation

Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project: Picturing "The Long Term"
Film Screening and Panel Discussion
(Various Artists, 2018, USA, digital, 13 mins hand-drawn animation)

Since 2011, the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project has brought artists, educators, and activists together with incarcerated individuals at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center. 

Through classes, workshops, and exhibitions, PNAP creates opportunities for learning across prison walls, connecting those inside with the tools and resources needed to creatively communicate their concerns to the larger Chicago community. 

This event highlights one such initiative: The Long Term (2016-2018), a series of works created around the issue of long-term sentencing policies and their impacts. This screening presents moving-image works generated by this project, including The Long Term (2018, 13 min), a hand-drawn animated film made by artists serving extended sentences, as well as testimonials from people impacted by long sentences. Following the films, members of the PNAP community discuss the larger scope of the project, the challenges and rewards of arts and humanities education in state prisons, and the urgent need for sentencing reform today. 



Teaching "Just Mercy" Through the Block’s Collection

Ongoing, Free and Open to All, Online

In Just Mercy, the 2020–21 One Book One Northwestern selection, author Bryan Stevenson calls on each of us to reckon with the failings of a complex, unfairly harsh, and often unaccountable criminal justice system. This selection of artworks from The Block’s collection reflects on themes, events, and ideas from Just Mercy. Works by ten artists—contemporary and historic—amplify and deepen our engagement with the book by bringing different backgrounds and perspectives into dialogue with it. The artworks address such issues as systemic racism, discrimination, and failures of the justice system, alongside artworks that allow us to reflect on racial and economic injustice and social inequities through a broader lens.

Just Mercy also reminds us that compassion and empathy are fundamental to our own human dignity.  In connection with the book, the artworks presented speak to Stevenson’s belief that “the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, the condemned.” We invite the Northwestern community as well as outside students and educators to use these works as an opportunity to connect to the themes of the text, whether it be through discussion or personal reflection. If you are interested in collaborating with us in your research or teaching, contact Melanie Garcia Sympson at 

View Works in Block Collection Database 

Download Hi-Res Image Package and Captions

Download as PDF Booklet
Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) Women who Killed in Self defense serve 3 times longer than the Men who Killed their wives, 1989Pat Phillips (born 1987, Lakenheath, England, active in Louisiana) Untitled “I got in 1 little graffiti arrest & my mom got scared…but my dad lost it when me & the homie didn’t take community service seriously” Acrylic, pencil, airbrush, aerosol paint on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of James and Sari Klein, 2020.7Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917–2000) Confrontation on the Bridge, 1975 Color screenprint Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gft of Paul S. D'Amato, LS 1985.3.4Kameelah Janan Rasheed (American, born 1985) Sum Follow, 2019 Inkjet print on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, purchase funds provided by the Julie and Lawrence Bernstein Family Art Acquisition Fund, 2019.18.4William Gropper, (American, 1897–1977) Justice, from the portfolio The Capriccios, 1953–56 Lithograph on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Evelyn Salk in memory of her husband, Erwin A. Salk, 2001.21.30Margaret Burroughs (American, 1917–2010) The Extended Family 1996 Linoleum cut on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Margaret Burroughs, 1996.46.6Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation, born 1954) Public Enemy Care for Youth (The Brutality Which Is America), 1992 Screenprints on paper (triptych) Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1994.90.1-3 Prentiss Taylor (American, 1907 - 1991), Scottsboro Limited, from the portfolio Scottsboro, 1932 Lithograph on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1992.57Hector Duarte (Mexican and American, born 1952) Como te ven te tratan (How they see you, they treat you), 2007 Color linoleum cut on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Molly Day and John Himmelfarb, 2007.15.3Charles Keller (American, 1914–2006) Resting, 1962 Pastel on paper Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of the Keller Family, 2016.13.5

Mercy in the Museum: Online Collection Tours

Throughout Fall 2020, The Block Museum hosted a series of shared conversations about artworks from the collection that explore ideas of justice, race, and equity. These online, discussion-based lunchtime tours were led by Block staff and inspired by 


Watch Now


Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System [Audio]

conversation flyer

In October 2018, the Block Museum hosted a panel discussion with Chicago artists committed to prison reform and to using art as a mechanism for change. In recognition of the 2020-2021 One Book One Northwestern reading selection Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption we are happy to make audio and transcript of this important discussion available for the first time

The panel included Mary Patten and Dorothy Burge of Chicago Torture Justice MemorialsKevin Kaempf of Lucky Pierre, and Sarah Ross and Eric Blackmon of Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project. These artists spoke to their work both as individuals and in collaboration, followed by dialogue moderated by Risa Puleo, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History and curator of the exhibition Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System, including work by these artists/collectives and 40 others nationally.

Listen Now