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UHCL Common Reader Program kicks off spring semester with screening of “Just Mercy” to explore criminal justice

University of Houston-Clear Lake's Common Reader Program is continuing the exploration of social and racial inequity with a virtual screening and discussion of the 2019 film "Just Mercy."

The free, online event, happening Saturday, February 6 from 6-9:30 p.m. via Zoom, is the continuation of programming to examine central themes in this year's Common Reader book, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates."

"The book charts two very different stories of the author, Wes Moore, and follows another person of the same name in a similar Baltimore neighborhood," said Anne Gessler, coordinator of the Common Reader Program and clinical assistant professor of humanities. "It compares and contrasts their lives. The book talks a lot about equitable access to resources and how difficult it is to thrive when that level of access is different."

The film, starring Michal B. Jordan, follows the true story of a man wrongfully incarcerated and the efforts to free him. Gessler said the film and book share similar themes of race, class, incarceration, and access to resources.

"This event helps us think differently about criminal justice issues and the treatment of incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people and their access to resources," Gessler said. "For example, we have been seeing a lot in the news about people who are incarcerated being diagnosed with COVID-19 and people have questioned how we should treat those individuals," she said. "People are asking if it's more important to keep them incarcerated or to release them so that they can get treatment, so it's a question of access to health."

Following the film, students from the criminal justice honor society, Alpha Phi Sigma, will lead a discussion with UH-Clear Lake Associate Professor and Criminology Program Director Kimberly Dodson and Chris Harris, director of Texas Appleseed's Criminal Justice Project.

"They will speak about the relationship of the criminal justice system in Texas and criminal justice reform," Gessler said. "Chris works on programs related to the school-to-prison pipeline with youth, racial disparities in incarceration and examines immigration issues and ICE detentions to support undocumented people."

The event is a collaboration with Alpha Phi Sigma, Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Campus Activities Board.

The UHCL Common Reader Program is an extension of the First-Year Seminar and is offering more programs throughout the spring to dissect "The Other Wes Moore," with upcoming events highlighting study abroad, women in education, Social Work Awareness Day, and another film screening of the documentary, "Owned" with a conversation with director Giorgio Angelini.

All in the community are invited to participate, share their perspectives and ask questions. Register for the Feb. 6 event on Zoom and learn more about the Common Reader Program online.