Can’t Miss Summer Reads for the Social Justice Minded

This summer, in addition to being an EP staff member, I also have the privilege of participating in our Fellowship programming here in Boston as an EP Fellow.

Earlier this week I was talking to one of my new professional contacts (thanks to the Fellowship) about how we both found our latest Fellowship workshop so useful because it gave us a chance to hear fresh perspectives from our cohort peers.

We both thought it so important to hear from new people to break out of our bubbles and collaborate with people who take different stances on a project or challenge we’re wrestling with.  

The conversations that our cohort has had so far have been inspiring, challenging, and courageous. While we don’t all have access to structured opportunities to delve deeply into issues about race, class, opportunity, power and privilege, they are conversations that all of us should have–especially if we work in education on behalf of underserved students.

So what if you don’t have a dedicated Fellowship cohort to broaden your perspective? How can you break out of your own status quo? Try broadening what you read. Reading can have a similar effect when it opens us up to new ideas and approaches, challenges what we believe and urges us to think in new ways.

So to help get others started, I wanted to share some crowd-sourced recommendations from EP’s Boston Fellowship cohort. I encourage you to add these to your summer reading list, and to even get a group of colleagues or friends together to discuss them.

Difficult Conversations is a great place to start if you want to talk more openly and deeply with others about topics that are hard or uncomfortable. It will show you how to navigate tough conversations–something we need to have more of in education to realize better outcomes for underserved students.

The only short story that Toni Morrison has written, “Recitatif” tells the story of two girls who are different races, but the reader is never privy to who is who. Morrison saw this as “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial”.

I’m hoping that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is already on your list (or even better, that you’ve read it already). In the Fellowship, we read Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” which delves into America’s past and, at times, present practices of structural and institutional racism and how that continues to impact the world today.

Justin C. Cohen, a writer and former nonprofit executive, tackles “education, justice, and miscellany” on his blog. In May, many EP leaders signed Cohen’s “An Open Letter,” where he writes:

Reimagining schools for all children, particularly the ones our current system ignores, will require many more years, perhaps generations, of hard work. The greatest risk to our success is […] the continued marginalization of the communities and leaders that most urgently need for schools to improve. We, as white leaders, have been imperfect allies in that work, but we’re committed to getting better. We hope that others will join us in this important work.”

His blog also often features guest posts from other leaders like Anthony Wilson and Jerelyn Rodriguez who are working towards a more just and equitable sector.

Early in my career when I was an AmeriCorps member in Boston, Common Ground was required reading. The book, which focuses on race relations through the lens of the school busing crisis in Boston, is pivotal to understanding the local education landscape then and how that experience continues to impact the city and schools in Boston. It’s a long, dense read, but so important if you want to dig in and better understand Boston through it’s gritty, hard, and challenging past.

Finally, two other books that are on my list to read are The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

What books or articles would you recommend as must-reads for emerging or established education leaders? List them in the comments. 

Colleen Downie Colleen Downie is the Marketing Associate at Education Pioneers. She began her career as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Generations Incorporated where she first started working in education–first managing a literacy program and then working on their marketing team. After a brief foray in the private sector, her firsthand experience observing the challenges and success within the social sector motivated Colleen to return to her nonprofit roots to drive social change.