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Public invited to campus events inspired by ‘Just Mercy,’ VCU’s Common Book

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s University College is organizing a series of public events related to the themes of this year’s campuswide Common Book. “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” is a 2014 autobiography by Bryan Stevenson that tells the story of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, providing a window into the lives of those he has defended and making an argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

“We are very excited to launch our yearlong, universitywide engagement with this year’s Common Book with these first three events,” said Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean of University College and director of the Common Book Initiative, which is sponsoring the events. “We are planning several opportunities for members of the VCU and RVA communities to attend, and to get involved and work alongside VCU students before the author, Bryan Stevenson, comes to VCU in April.” 

The upcoming events, which are free and open to the public, will explore topics such as the purpose of policing, Richmond’s racial history, and experiences with life and health behind bars.

 Chief John Venuti [View Image] Chief John Venuti

Why Trust the Cops?
Tuesday, Oct. 4, 7–9 p.m.
University Student Commons, Commonwealth Ballroom A

Police officer or officer of the peace? Come hear VCU Police Chief John Venuti, along with members of other law enforcement agencies, talk about policing with a purpose, building trust and community-engaged policing.



“From Telemedicine to the Secure Care Unit: Perspectives on Correctional Health Care at VCU Health”
Thursday, Oct. 13, noon-1 p.m.
Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, Lecture Room 2-010

As outlined by Bryan Stevenson in “Just Mercy,” too often, the health care provided to incarcerated people is inadequate. Working as part of a community alliance with 30 Virginia Department of Corrections’ facilities, the physicians and nurses who work in VCU Health’s Telemedicine Center and the Secure Care Unit ensure access to health care for those behind bars. This event will offer perspectives from nurses and doctors who provide care to inmates.

Brown-bag lunch. Bring your lunch. Drinks and cookies provided. Please register at:

 Shawn Utsey, Ph.D. [View Image] Shawn Utsey, Ph.D.

“Meet Me in the Bottom”
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Harris Hall Auditorium, Room 101

Attend a screening of VCU professor and documentarian Shawn Utsey’s 2009 film, “Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground,” followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.



  [View Image]

Healing in a Broken System: Memoirs from Jail
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 6–8 p.m.
Jonah L. Larrick Student Center, Court End Ballroom B

Attend a panel presentation and discussion with the co-authors of “Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail,” as they discuss life, death and health issues surrounding addiction, violence and mental health as factors leading to crime, and explore the healing power of writing.

Co-sponsored with International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program and the American Medical Student Association at VCU School of Medicine. Refreshments will be provided.


VCU’s Common Book program is a yearlong, universitywide initiative in which the entire VCU community, across both campuses, as well as the wider community, is invited to read the same book, and take part in public events and discussions.

As part of the program, VCU distributed more than 3,500 copies of “Just Mercy” to incoming first-year students during orientation. They took part in Welcome Week discussion groups facilitated by faculty, staff, graduate students and administrators, as well as more in-depth curricular engagement with the book in UNIV 111.

“Thanks to the faculty, staff, graduate students, and community members who facilitated discussions sessions with new students during Welcome Week in August, and to the faculty in Focused Inquiry teaching the interdisciplinary book in UNIV 111 and 112, first-year students are already beginning to explore the important issues the text raises,” Fowler said. “’Just Mercy’ provides all of us an opportunity to examine inequities within our justice system. It can help us better understand the significance and complexities of racial and socio-economic justice and inform racial reconciliation and healing in our contemporary society.”

Copies of “Just Mercy” are available to be checked out from both the James Branch Cabell Library on the Monroe Park campus and the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences on the MCV campus. Copies also will be available for purchase at the campus Barnes & Noble bookstores and other area book shops.

In addition to the three upcoming public events, a variety of events will be held throughout the year, including a talk by “Just Mercy” author Bryan Stevenson on April 12, 2017. For a full calendar of events, visit

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