February 3, 2017

How to start a racial justice book club

Here are three stories from communities around the U.S. that will inspire you

A reading group in Evanston, Illinois, has found an innovative way to engage community members. Photo by Flickr user Stewart Butterfield

Racial justice through history: The YWCA of Evanston, Illinois, is launching a book discussion group focused on racial justice. The group will be reading “NOBODY: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond,” by Marc Lamont Hill, a professor, CNN commentator, and activist. The event targets a wide-ranging audience. Younger readers are encouraged to join—the group is open to anyone in high school or older. The event is also accessible regardless of income; 25 copies of the book will be available for check out so that the cost of buying a book does not prohibit anyone from participating. This model of community engagement is particularly innovative because it’s so easy to replicate: anyone near a library can choose a book and launch a similar discussion group.

Move over, Tesla: Seattle is a very congested city: between 2013 and 2015, traffic grew by 35 percent, and as more people move to Seattle, transportation will become longer, less convenient, and more environmentally damaging. Professor Tyler Folsom of the University of Washington Bothell wanted a more sustainable solution, so he designed an autonomous tricycle that is smaller, lighter, and more green than traditional urban transportation: the tricycles use substantially less fuel, and current prototypes run on solar power. Folsom hopes people embrace his innovative new form of transportation in service of a cleaner and faster commute. “Once we have automated cars as a fact of life, what the car is is going to change,” Folsom told Statescoop. “And this very light vehicle might be the vehicle of the future.”

Painting the future: A Washington, D.C., hotspot is getting a makeover, and the community is pitching in. Ben’s Chili Bowl, a restaurant well known for its half-smokes, milkshakes, and chili dogs, is woven into the neighborhood’s history: it stayed open and served both police and activists in the 1968 riots. Since 2012, the restaurant has featured the faces of Bill Cosby, Donnie Simpson, Chuck Brown and President Barack Obama on a mural outside. Now, the owners say, they want to let the community decide who is deserving of a spot on the wall. To that end, they’ve set up a poll with fifty-nine options, ranging from politicians such as Barack Obama, to historical civil rights figures such as Gandhi and Rosa Parks. “We’d like people to tag the mural with positive sentiments of healing the country. And the world,” Kamal Ali, one of the restaurant’s owners, told NPR.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the YWCA no longer stands for the Young Women’s Christian Association.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.