Cinnaminson High School holds social justice forum based on movie ‘Just Mercy’

Students and faculty gather at Cinnaminson high school to discuss criminal justice, inequality and rules and regulations.

After a busy month of related activities, Cinnaminson High School students capped off Black History Month with a social justice forum on Feb. 26.

High school science teacher and multicultural club advisor Monique Bouggess conducted several activities leading up to the forum, such as visiting the African American Museum in Philadelphia, viewing the movie, “The Green Book,” in the library and also seeing the movie “Just Mercy” at a local theater. “Just Mercy” is also a book, and earlier in February, Principal Ryan Gorman provided free copies to students in anticipation of the social justice forum at the end of the month.

Faculty and staff members gathered with students in the library for the forum, which was a discussion about both the book and movie versions of “Just Mercy” and the related social and racial injustices in the criminal justice system. 

“Just Mercy” tells the story about a young lawyer named Bryan Stevenson whose first case was that of Walter McMillian, a young black man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. 

According to Gorman, the event allowed the faculty a chance to discuss important topics with the students that may not typically be discussed in school. The book served as a teaching tool for young minds to enlighten and encourage readers to aspire to do great things in the world and to make a difference, the principal explained.

“We were really in particular excited about the book and the author’s message,” Gorman said. “We wanted to find a way to bring up that conversation in school based on the thoughts of the book and how the thoughts of the book impact a school day in several elements. 

“One of things we talked about in my group is what is the purpose of rules,” Gorman added. “What are we trying to do when we create a rule, what is the reason behind creating that rule and is that rule effective in what it’s trying to do?”

Gorman’s discussion of rules and regulations was one of the six sections at the forum. School Resource Officers Joe Otto and Roger Roger talked about their experiences with law enforcement as police officers, and American law and history teachers Robert Becker and Kayla Arni discussed the history and politics that shape the criminal justice system. 

School crisis counselor Anthony Faltz shared insight based on his previous work as a counselor in the prison system, and media specialist and coordinator Sherry Spier and special education teacher Tamara Beatty discussed the differences and similarities of the book and movie versions of “Just Mercy.” The last station addressed cultural and racial inequality.  

For Spier, Beatty and students Nicole Chu and Lucas Medeiros, some of the key takeaways from the event included the amount of inequality that there is in criminal justice as well as the differences in the amount of sentencing based on race, ethnicity, gender and wealth. 

“If everyone commits the same crime, they should all get the same time,” said Beatty. “But it’s not like that. We wouldn’t all get the same time because of different factors. It’s also hard because there’s also different circumstances in each individual case, but we should all be treated fairly and not based on the color of our skin or sex.”