What We’re Reading

February 9th, 2018 by

Alexandra Nicosias-Kopp, AmeriCorps VISTA

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle

An electrifying story of the sensational murder trial that divided a city and ignited the civil rights struggle

In 1925, Detroit was a smoky swirl of jazz and speakeasies, assembly lines and fistfights. The advent of automobiles had brought workers from around the globe to compete for manufacturing jobs, and tensions often flared with the KKK in ascendance and violence rising. Ossian Sweet, a proud Negro doctor-grandson of a slave-had made the long climb from the ghetto to a home of his own in a previously all-white neighborhood. Yet just after his arrival, a mob gathered outside his house; suddenly, shots rang out: Sweet, or one of his defenders, had accidentally killed one of the whites threatening their lives and homes.

And so it began-a chain of events that brought America’s greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, into the fray and transformed Sweet into a controversial symbol of equality. Historian Kevin Boyle weaves the police investigation and courtroom drama of Sweet’s murder trial into an unforgettable tapestry of narrative history that documents the volatile America of the 1920s and movingly re-creates the Sweet family’s journey from slavery through the Great Migration to the middle class. Ossian Sweet’s story, so richly and poignantly captured here, is an epic tale of one man trapped by the battles of his era’s changing times.

Carole Fireall, NLA Coordinator & Office Administrator

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Edward Gresham, Chatham Apprentice Program Coordinator

Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race

The Destruction of Black Civilization took Chancellor Williams sixteen years of research and field study to compile. The book, which was to serve as a reinterpretation of the history of the African race, was intended to be “”a general rebellion against the subtle message from even the most ‘liberal’ white authors (and their Negro disciples): ‘You belong to a race of nobodies. You have no worthwhile history to point to with pride.'”” The book was written at a time when many black students, educators, and scholars were starting to piece together the connection between the way their history was taught and the way they were perceived by others and by themselves. They began to question assumptions made about their history and took it upon themselves to create a new body of historical research. The book is premised on the question: “If the Blacks were among the very first builders of civilization and their land the birthplace of civilization, what has happened to them that has left them since then, at the bottom of world society, precisely what happened? The Caucasian answer is simple and well-known: The Blacks have always been at the bottom.” Williams instead contends that many elements—nature, imperialism, and stolen legacies— have aided in the destruction of the black civilization. The Destruction of Black Civilization is revelatory and revolutionary because it offers a new approach to the research, teaching, and study of African history by shifting the main focus from the history of Arabs and Europeans in Africa to the Africans themselves, offering instead “a history of blacks that is a history of blacks. Because only from history can we learn what our strengths were and, especially, in what particular aspect we are weak and vulnerable. Our history can then become at once the foundation and guiding light for united efforts in serious[ly] planning what we should be about now.” It was part of the evolution of the black revolution that took place in the 1970s, as the focus shifted from politics to matters of the mind.

Isaac Felton, Chatham Apprentice Program Manager

If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules: Ten Rules for Being Human

In If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules, Chérie shares that there are no mistakes in life, only lessons that are repeated. In thoughtful, inspirational essays illustrated with encouraging personal anecdotes, she includes the lessons that can be learned from each of the Rules and offers insights on self-esteem, respect, acceptance, forgiveness, ethics, compassion, humility, gratitude, and courage. Best of all, Chérie shows that wisdom lies inside each one of us and that by putting the Ten Rules for Being Human into action we can create a more fulfilling life.

Jen Singeisen, Executive Director

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World

In this ground-breaking new book, acclaimed diversity expert Mark Williams offers ten “eye-opening” lenses to help you, your organization, and everyone in it, understand how cultural diversity affects the way we live and work. There’s the Assimilationist who believes that everyone should act like a true blue American, and the Culturalcentrist who believes that a person’s race or ethnicity is central to their personal and public identity; the Meritrocratist who is sure that if you have the abilities and work hard enough you can make your dreams come true regardless of race or culture, and the Victim/Caregiver who believes that because of bias they will never succeed. Learn more about these lenses, as well as six other lenses that Mark Williams has developed to respond to cultural diversity.

Kate Blair, Director of Development & Communications

Systems Change: A Guide To What It Is and How To Do It

Systems change: A guide to what it is and how to do it

Systems change has been attracting the attention of those in the social sector who want to deal with the root causes of problems, but, despite the buzz, much of what is written is abstract in tone. With the support of LankellyChase Foundation, we have produced this guide to plug a gap in the systems change literature—providing accessible material and recommendations for action.

Robyn Wainner, Director of Asset Building & Financial Empowerment

Salvage the Bones: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. While brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel’s framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel’s heart–motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce–pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bone is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh