Reading for Change
Books clubs facilitate dialogues about equity, racism, and inclusivity
Three book clubs across the United States whose readings focus on themes of equity, racism, and inclusion share their goals, outcomes, and most provocative reading selections.
Dr. Vicki Wacksman, Dr. Paul Roberts, and Janet Olshewsky celebrate the anniversary of Manasota's Interracial Book Club's founding and completion of the group's first reading list in 2019.
Manasota Interracial Book Club
The Manasota Interracial Book Club (MIBC) of Florida was founded, "to provide residents of Florida’s Sarasota and Manatee Counties the opportunity to define racism in America by studying its root causes, to enhance their articulation and capacity for social policy analysis, faithful reflections, and public actions on moral issues impacting our society, and to enhance interpersonal interactions between races,” according to co-founder Janet Kastner Olshewsky. Together with M. Vicki Wacksman, Olshewsky founded the group in 2018 at Sarasota’s First Presbyterian Church where the two serve as church elders.
Sixty members take part in MIBC'S four racially balanced discussion groups. Dr. Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, a historically black institution, created MIBC's first reading list, which included Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A steering committee chose the current list which includes Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, and Ta-Neishi Coates's Between the World and Me.
Outcomes: "We have a new mutual understanding of the scope and depth of racism in America, a commitment to address those issues locally, and new friendships between members of the black and white communities.”
Reading Highlight: The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist. "This book was an eye-opener for both black and white members. We realized that textbook authors' omissions have shaped our schooling, and how ill-informed we have been by historians, politicians, and policymakers motivated by greedy self-interest.”
The Chronicles of the Crust Book Club meet for a discussion in Washington, DC.
Chronicles of the Crust Book Club
In Washington, DC, the Chronicles of the Crust Book Club's eight members are, "a mix of white, Indian, and Salvadorans," says club member Anne Thomas. A few years ago, the group decided to focus on books by indigenous writers and authors of color.
"Our discussions evolved and became more thoughtful," notes Thomas. "Our goal was to have conversations with people who may not agree with each other but are open to hearing different viewpoints," she adds.
Outcomes: "Over the years, the selected books have broadened our libraries, led to more meaningful conversations, and the chance to see the world from different perspectives.”
Reading Highlights: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: "We discussed the racism experienced by Koreans who lived in Japan.”
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: "We focused our discussion on the racial dynamics of the United States in the ‘90s."
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: “We discussed the dynamics of an interracial family living in post-Katrina Mississippi.”
The Shasta County (California) Beloved Community (SCBC) Book Club is, “a forum for open, civil discussion and to bring about positive change in our community,” says organizer Monette Pierce. The SCBC is a diverse group of fifty. “Our community has about a 23% black, indigenous and people of color population which is well represented in our club,” says Pierce. “The meetings give everyone a voice and the opportunity to share their life experiences, feelings about the current events, and how the books connect with them."Reading selections educate and inform members about the history of systemic racism, sexism, classism.
During the pandemic, the group switched to an online meeting format that proved successful. “Zoom gives us the ability to meet in break out rooms if we get too large to manage discussions in the larger group,” says Pierce.
Outcomes: "By learning the history of racism, gender, sexual and spiritual oppression, and the injustice of classism and gentrification that has been woven into the fiber of who we are, we can begin to dismantle these harmful ways and create a new more inclusive community environment. By listening and learning we grow, we learn to create a future that is more equitable for all, and we are empowered with tools and understanding to propagate a future that is better than our history.”
Reading Highlights: Voices of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn: "A collection of first-person writings from people throughout American history who are usually are left out of history books. Reading about people in history who were painted in a very different light, such as Christopher Columbus, was impactful. Hearing many unheard voices of our American story gave us a sense of completeness. Some members felt they had been robbed of the truth and are now learning to listen and see other perspectives. Many members experienced an eye-opening awareness of the negative impact that colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have had on BIPOC and the poor classes and keeping them down.”
This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, And Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell: “This book helped us begin to take action. After our first gathering, there was a sense of emotional turmoil and wanting to do something, but we weren't sure exactly how. This book helped us understand systemic racism and oppression and how to be part of the positive change."