This month I could not decide on just one book. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary, by Elizabeth Partridge and We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levison, work together to tell the story of young peoples’ role in the civil rights movement in America. Both Levison and Partridge use photographs, quotes and original text to show how children stood up alongside, and sometimes in the place of, adults. Children stood up to brutality and hatred with peace and perseverance. Many were beaten and jailed and came back the next day to march again. In times of unrest, children show a keen sense of justice. Both these books do justice to the sacrifices and contributions of countless children. Read them together or by themselves, and share them with the young people in your lives, as beacons of hope and inspiration.
Author Nick Ripatrazone recently recalled some sage advice, given to him by a writing professor when he was worrying over writing. His teacher wrote to him, simply: Worrying isn’t work. This advice—I note a little ruefully, thinking of some recent worry-warted days—seems widely applicable, above and beyond a writing life. Even just shovel your neighbor’s driveway, a friend said the other day, and chat with them this winter. The spectrum for good and thoughtful work, for reaching out, happily, is huge. You can go small. You can go really, really big. I’d love to shout out to the Maine Public Radio’s Voices of Giving series this month, which has been warming my commute with wonderful stories of local people helping out others here in Maine- seeing a need and working to fill that need. And from the library’s collections? I’ll pick Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History…and Our Future! This beautiful book is powerful and inspiring. Written for youth, featuring brief bios of “agents of change of all kinds,” it shares an alphabet of awesome women who have worked hard in our country. The cut-paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl are bold and active, and each woman—activists, artists, authors, such as Dolores Huerta, Wilma Mankiller, Kate Bornstein, Maya Lin—shines on her page in brilliant black lines and rich color. All the reviewers seem to like the entry for the letter “X,” and I do, too. (See book for details). I plan to pick up a copy of Rad American Women A-Z for my nephews this winter; I’m gladdened by the thought of them growing up in a world where their E stands for Ella Baker, their P for Patti Smith, and their Z for Zora Neale Hurston.
Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson
Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards
Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman
Making It Right: Building Peace, Settling Conflict by Marilee Peters
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
These and many additional tiles appear on an awesome list compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association blog, The Hub: 20 Books to Inspire Social Change.
I think one of the most heartening things we can do when our future is uncertain and precarious is to take a moment to engage with our past. These documentaries both serve as necessary reminders of the collective power of people and the incredible potential of strong, united communities. Angela Davis’s words ring especially true these days: Freedom is a constant struggle.
The documentary Lizzie Velasquez: A Brave Heart is the story of Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist. The documentary begins with Lizzie reflecting on her childhood. Lizzie was born with a rare disorder that makes her unable to gain weight. Growing up Lizzie experienced bullying for looking different. She struggled to fit in, but eventually won over many of her classmates. She became an active member of her school. Her life seemed to improve, but then in high school she discovered a terrible YouTube video that would change her life. Someone created a video with Lizzie’s picture titled “World’s Ugliest Woman.” It was filled with hateful comments. Lizzie was devastated, but with the love and support of her family she decided to start speaking out against bullying. The film discusses her journey to becoming a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist, and then ends with Lizzie traveling to Washington DC to lobby for anti-bullying legislation. The documentary is inspirational, and shows how one person can take personal heartache and turn it into the strength and courage to fight bullying, and to change the world for the better.
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
After reading an interview with Bryan Stevenson in the New Yorker I decided to finally read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which had been sitting on my nightstand for months. (The thing with buying a book is that there is no due date, so those book languish more than my library books).
Once I started Just Mercy, I couldn’t put it down. Stevenson is an incredible civil rights lawyer but also an incredible writer. He is able to tell these true stories from his clients, all them heart-wrenching, with grace. The stories about children on death row were the hardest to read. Antonio Nuñez, for instance, became the only child in the country known to be sentenced to die in prison for his involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured. The collection is an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.
Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The book alternates chapters between Walter’s case and several of Stevenson’s other prominent cases. It highlights his personal journey, but at its heart it is about the flaws in America’s criminal justice system.
This is an important work which recommended for any individual concerned with the concepts of justice, compassion, and mercy. If you read Just Mercy and want more by Stevenson, you could watch his Ted Talk or learn more about the work he does with the Equal Justice Initiative.
As founder of The GW Lincoln Society, I think it especially fitting to share the wise words of President Lincoln this month, since he is largely responsible for instituting a nation-wide day of Thanksgiving, which, 153 years after his proclamation, we will celebrate once again this week.
Take time with his words and the story of his life. They will give you hope and inspiration. They will remind you of the power of principle, sacrifice and perseverance.
I close with the lyrical coda of his first Inaugural Address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Choose Civility is a PPL initiative that focuses on promoting civil discourse and civic engagement in our community. In addition to reading items from this collection, we hope you will join us for upcoming programs and community conversation. To stay in the loop, please sign up for our CC newsletter.
You can find Choose Civility’s great resources shelved together downstairs in nonfiction, or take a look at this booklist and place your holds to pick up today.
As always, thanks for reading.