Black History Month continued...
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” ~ Muhammad Ali
The River Bookshop is now half way through our celebration of Black History Month and our support for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum. This initiative will now be an annual February fixture at our bookshop. We do wish that Covid had not derailed the many events that we had originally planned, but we hope to reschedule them around Emancipation Day, August 1st. You do still have time to sign up to enjoy Bernice Carnegie’s Zoom presentation on her book "A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story" at 2 pm on February 16th. Contact us at email@example.com to receive your link to this free broadcast.
From our opening last August we have staked out the River Bookshop’s firm position on racism. From our selection of titles by Black authors, on Black history and relating to Black issues to our Racial Justice speaker series, we have committed to educating and engaging our readers on this issue. You see, Emancipation for our Black citizens occurred in 1834, but they are still fighting a battle for equality. We Canadians may hold ourselves up when we compare to Americans, but I suggest that is a very low bar. One hundred and eighty seven years after Emancipation anti-black racism is still systemic in Canada. You can see it in the increase of hate crime incidents, in Black unemployment figures that are seven percentage points higher than those of non-visible minorities. It is shown in the under representation of Blacks in our corporate board rooms while they are over represented in our prisons. And how many of your friends have you heard say “I’m not a racist .. I have Black friends” thinking that cliche excuses their racism? I know I am not perfect so I have been availing myself of our shop’s titles on the subject. I just finished reading “Across That Bridge” by the late John Lewis. He stressed that “nothing can stop the power of committed and determined people to make a difference in our society”. So to do that I am taking advice from the late Nelson Mandela “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Note: the photograph of the young “Cassius Clay at the 5th Street Gym” by Flip Schulke is over our fireplace during Black History Month. Hopefully Covid restrictions will lift during the month so you can come into the bookshop and see it.
If you, like Richard, would like to learn more about Black history, about Black contributions to society or if you just want to expand your literary tastes to include authors of colour or books with more representation - we can help with that.
Representation matters. Marian Wright Edelman once said, "If you can't see it, you can't be it." It's important that children (or grown ups) see themselves or people who look like them in positions of power, in the arts, as heroes or heroines. It allows them to imagine themselves there too, it gives them the hope that their dreams aren't just dreams - they are a possibility. But maybe even more importantly representation in stories, in books, in movies allows us to see and experience others as just like us, as human beings who love and dream and strive for better, just like us. This matters because all hate begins with "othering", creating an us and them situation. Books, art, music, movies are all great ways to educate and to create empathy and acceptance which are the tools we need to fight racism.
Here are some great books we have highlighted in our Black History Month windows. Remember, any titles bought from our window gets you an entry to win an Amherstburg Freedom Museum T-Shirt.
The classic, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is poet Maya Angelou's autobiography of her early years. Often referred to as biographical fiction because of its use of literary themes it is not fiction in any real sense of the word - it is Angelou's life story. For Fiction lovers, we have Brandon Taylor's Real Life - shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel addresses race, sexuality and solitude in a beautifully written, perfectly paced coming of age novel.
There are some amazing picture books and middle grade novels out now. Some newer ones like Hair Love by Matthew Cherry, based on the Academy Award winning short film about love, self-confidence and a daddy/daughter connection and Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, a joyous celebration of black history and a tool for understanding - perfect for littles.
If classics are more your thing there is The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, this Newberry Honor winning middle grade novel tells the story of ten year old Kenny and his every day funny family as they travel to visit their grandmother in Birmingham, unknowingly heading towards a very dark part of American history.
Also shown is Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander.
If history or culture or understanding is what you are looking for, you are in luck. There is a proliferation of books that chronicle Black history, systemic racism and Black culture.
Just a few of the newest titles are shown below. Clockwise from the top left, The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, a powerful history of the Black church as the foundation of Black life and a driving force in the freedom struggle. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee, an exploration on the premise that racism costs everyone - not just people of colour. Both books are available February 16th.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, a unique 400 year history written by 90 brilliant Black writers, each taking a five year period. The book is edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain and will undoubtedly be required reading for years to come. The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth about Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, a book that makes addressing systemic racism in organizations and for individuals an approachable and achievable task.
And lastly, but not finally because there are so many more amazing books to explore, we have Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, part history, part mystery, part adventure story, authors Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard show that certain quilt patterns were essential tools for escape along the Underground Railroad. Fascinating.
Check out our window displays or our website for these and more titles to expand your knowledge and your understanding of Black History, the Black experience or the fantastic Black authors and writers making art today.
And don't forget our events this month!
Be sure to register to take part in our Bernice Carnegie event on February 16th brought to you in partnership with the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and our Virtual National Events with Penguin Random House - great conversations with today's hottest authors.
Go to our events page on the website to learn more.
Stay safe and keep reading,