Central Ohio libraries launch joint book club for reflection on racism

Erica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch
From left, Derryck Boyer, Chase Bank business operations analyst; Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League; and Shannon Hardin, Columbus City Council president, sit inside the Main Library of the Columbus Metropolitan Library system, 96 S. Grant Ave., with copies of "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Eight central Ohio library systems are joining Columbus in an initiative called "Let's Talk About Race: One Book – One Community" that will culminate with a virtual talk with Reynolds on Jan. 24.

What would happen if everyone in central Ohio read the same book on racism at the same time?

The Columbus Metropolitan Library is attempting to answer that question with a new initiative, “Let’s Talk About Race: One Book – One Community,” launched Nov. 9 in conjunction with eight library systems in Franklin and Madison counties. All are encouraging patrons to read “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.

The book club will conclude with a virtual discussion featuring Reynolds at 4 p.m. Jan. 24.

Author Jason Reynolds

The book club was inspired by the national protests and conversation about racism following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We wanted to challenge the entire community to reflect upon the institutional and systemic inequalities that have been allowed to divide our nation and our community for such a long time,” said Gregg Dodd, marketing director at the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Released earlier this year, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” is Reynolds' young-adult adaptation of Kendi’s 2016 title, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” Dodd said the libraries chose this version so students could join the discussion.

In 2015, the Columbus library launched a similar program centered on “Showdown,” hometown author Wil Haygood’s book on Thurgood Marshall. This year’s reading challenge is larger in scope, given the collaboration with other library systems.

Other participating library systems are Bexley, Grandview Heights, London, Plain City, Southwest, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Worthington.

Gregg Dodd, Columbus Metropolitan Library's director of marketing, holds copies “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You," which is Jason Reynolds' young-adult adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi’s 2016 “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” Dodd said the libraries chose this version so students could join the discussion.

Columbus Metropolitan Library is finalizing four other virtual events and panels on the topic in December and January. Worthington Libraries has scheduled a virtual discussion for teens and adults on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 18.

“Libraries are uniquely positioned to facilitate conversations around difficult subjects,” said Lisa Fuller, director of community engagement for Worthington Libraries. “The subject of race in America is difficult for people to navigate. ... We saw this as an opportunity for us to come together as a larger Columbus community to have that conversation with each other.”

More:Library Lines: Community reading initiative focuses on race

Librarians in central Ohio already are familiar with Reynolds. In August, he was part of the Ohio Library Council’s webinar on advancing racial equity within public libraries, which was made available to libraries statewide.

“He’s so engaging,” said Canaan Faulkner, public-relations manager at Grandview Heights Public Library, who is helping plan events for teens and adults as part of the book club. “It’s a tough topic for communities, but he makes that conversation happen in a positive way.”

There already is support and enthusiasm for the initiative among organizations and public figures, such as Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, who is reading the book. Hardin, who is Black, said everyone should participate.

“It’s so appropriate for this year as we try to learn and understand the impact that race has played on all of us,” Hardin said. “This year has given us a whole bunch of new allies who actually don’t know how to engage, and, truthfully, we don’t know how to engage with them."

Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, said the book club is an opportunity to contextualize those experiences, especially for young Black people who are dealing with added stress.

“White kids can just go to school and be themselves, but a Black kid who is in a predominantly white school doesn’t have the ability to really be their authentic selves, or they’re always worrying about being treated differently,” she said. “Now that we’ve had this huge awakening in this country, I think this is a good way to talk about racism in a constructive way for your young people and to keep the momentum going around these conversations. ... I think it’s a way also for people to continue to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Demetries J. Neely, executive director of the King Arts Complex, is a fan of Kendi’s original “Stamped” book, as well as his 2019 book and New York Times bestseller, “How to Be an Antiracist.” 

Neely said she is supportive of the book-club initiative and hopes to collaborate.

“Maybe we can stop something – someone will not teach their grandchildren this hate and this racism,” she said. “I hope it changes minds, hearts and behaviors.”