On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, Philando Castile, an unarmed African American man, was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer, Jeronimo Yanez. With bravery and poise, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed his death and the aftermath as her 4-year-old daughter and the world looked on. Tragically, a headline like this has become all too common. But this tragedy was close to home. 5.7 miles away to be exact. It was at this point, as I watched with shock and horror, that I realized my white privilege had afforded me a distance that had made me complacent. I had spent time educating myself about racial justice issues and having conversations about them, but what was I doing in my community to enact change? Though I am still figuring out how best to expand my knowledge and fight for racial justice in my community, I want to share one way in which I have taken action in my role as a librarian at St. Kate’s.
I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the unique role that libraries play in our democracy and the one thing I come back to time and time again is the potential libraries have to bring people together. As librarian Nancy Pearl says, “There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them.” As free institutions, open to all, libraries of all types have the opportunity to bridge that gap. But in order to accomplish this, we need a catalyst. One catalyst that has the potential to raise empathy and promote dialogues across difference is story.
In the wake of Philando Castile’s death and in the midst of what was turning out to be a very polarizing election season, we needed a story that could help bring us together as a community, raise awareness, encourage empathy, and foster dialogue across difference. I found not one, but multiple stories that could help us do this, in a book edited by Sun Yung Shin appropriately titled, A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota. This anthology features local authors writing about their experience as a person of color, Indigenous American, immigrant, and transgender person, just to name a few of the lived experiences showcased in this book. With this book and the combined expertise, experience, and perspective of a diverse group of St. Kate's staff and faculty members, the One Read for Racial Justice was born.
For the unacquainted, a “one read’ is like a book club, but on a community-wide scale. The entire community reads the same book, organizes events to deepen understanding of the book’s themes, and comes together to share their thoughts and reflections. Though we didn’t have the funds to purchase a copy of the book for every member of the St. Kate’s community, we gave away copies of the book at most of the affiliated events and the fourteen copies in our collection and at other CLIC libraries have been largely checked out since this initiative began. Over the course of the fall semester, with the leadership of individuals from a variety of departments around campus, we learned about and discussed topics such as diversity in the publishing industry, racism in the criminal justice system, #blacklivesmatter, reading & teaching for racial justice, “stand your ground culture” and healing justice. With the organizing theme that the “One Read for Racial Justice” provided, we were able to elevate these discussions and bring them to new and bigger audiences.
We are continuing this community-wide initiative into spring semester by bringing the St. Kate’s community together to discuss selections from A Good Time for the Truth. One of the beautiful things about a campus like ours is the diverse array of perspectives brought to bear on this book. I hope we can work with each other to cultivate spaces that are brave enough to have frank & challenging discussions about racism yet safe enough for us to share the individual experiences that both unite us and make us unique. It is with these goals in mind that we will be coordinating a series of lunchtime discussions called “Food for Thought.” I want to extend an invitation to you: students, staff, and faculty, to join the discussion or consider leading a lunchtime discussion of your own. We are also excited to announce that six of the women contributors to A Good Time for the Truth will be joining us for an author panel of February 23rd, moderated by St. Kate’s English professor & contributing author, Taiyon J Coleman. I want to thank the mission chairs for the valuable support they’ve provided for this initiative including co-sponsoring the upcoming panel, helping us bring multiple speakers to campus, and facilitating a staff/faculty book discussion in the Centers for Excellence on February 10 at 11:30am.
Until we succeed in dismantling racism, it will always be a good time for the truth.
Join us in reading, learning, listening, and talking together.
For more information about the One Read for Racial justice or to find out more about participating in or leading a lunchtime discussion, contact Amy Mars at firstname.lastname@example.org