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As I’ve written before, one part of a meaningful, transformational, humble, and holistic response to the history and current reality of injustice and social division in our nation is to learn and to listen. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve offered lists of resources—books, podcasts, and films—that have helped me in my own growth in understanding that leads to action. In this post, I’ve gathered those recommendations in one place for easier reference.
I’ve selected five to six books/films/podcasts in each category (except memoir, where I couldn’t resist offering ten). There are hundreds more in each category, but these will give you a place to start. This guide includes, in this order:
Children's Book Recommendations
Links to other lists of recommendations curated by people of color
Common Sense Media’s take on ”outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
The following recommendations come from our own family’s reading:
The true story of the hateful discrimination experienced by a 6-year old black child integrating an all-white school in New Orleans and of her resilience and grace
ELEMENTARY CHAPTER BOOKS
Biographical books in the “Who Was?” series, including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, and Frederick Douglass. These are simple and short profiles of Black leaders that help kids understand both the hardship many African Americans have endured and the reasons we all have to admire and respect their many contributions to our nation.
FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL
A classic story based on Taylor’s own family history in Mississippi in which three Black men are lynched and a young girl struggles to understand and respond.
Although it is very much historical fiction, this novel imagines what it would be like to grow up with an enslaved mother and a white father who is also the President.
A fictionalized account of Harriet Jacobs’ experience of growing up as an enslaved person in Edenton, North Carolina (my home town) and then hiding for seven years in an attic crawl space before finally securing her freedom.
FOR OLDER MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL
I haven’t read this one, but William recommends it as a story about a young Black boy grieving the loss of his older brother and trying to make sense of the hard and good aspects of life in his complex family and neighborhood.
I also haven’t read this one, but Penny recommends it as a book that explains why a middle school girl might choose to protest a cause, and what it might cost her to make her views publicly known.
This hard and hopeful story imagines a 12-year old boy who has been shot by a police officer and remains on earth as a ghost who travels back in time to talk with other “ghost boys” who were killed in the past.
Both of these novels describe life in an urban and predominantly Black neighborhood, with the hardship of institutionalized racism and violence as well as the beauty of family and church and community life.
Non-fiction book and podcast recommendations for adults
NON-FICTION BOOKS FOR ADULTS
Each chapter emerges out of a biblical text, like a sermon and invites the reader to deeper spiritual sustenance, to live differently, with more love, more justice, more grace.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning, comprehensive history of the Great Migration of African American men and women from the South to the West, Midwest, and Northeast of the United States gives a compelling overview of the past hundred years of African American history and offers a helpful background for understanding where we are in the present day.
Forman, a lawyer and the son of a civil rights activist, exposes the white power structures at work in the criminal justice system alongside the ways black communities supported laws and policies that have led to a disproportionate number of black men especially behind bars.
This classic book, now 20 years old, offers a winsome and helpful guide through the concept of developing a racial identity.
PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADULTS
Capehart ran a series of nine short, informative, and moving episodes interviewing icons of the Civil Rights movement. (And host Jonathan Capehart is a Black man who does a great job interviewing people more broadly the rest of the time too.)
Scene on Radio podcast is an incredibly compelling exploration of what it means to be white in America, how this concept of whiteness was created, and what it has meant over time.
Host Sarah Koenig spends a year inside a courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio in a sobering commentary on our criminal “justice” system and an even-handed look at the ways race, class, and education factor into that system.
The title of this podcast series might say enough: if you are a white person who wants to make peace, Osheta Moore, who is black, wants to help you learn and grow.
The Code Switch podcast in general discusses race in a way that is helpful for white listeners, but this conversation in particular reminded me that one role I have as a white parent is to talk with my kids about the cultural power they hold simply because they are white.
Memoirs for adults
Coates, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, offers a bleak portrait of American life as he writes a letter to his son about what it is like to be a black man in America.
For anyone interested in contemporary United States history, the theology of nonviolent resistance, love, hope, and/or the ongoing struggle for justice and equality—these 500 pages by John Lewis (with Michael D’Orso) are well worth your time.
I so appreciated Cara’s memoir about her marriage to James Meredith, a black man who came from a prominent southern family, and her journey to understand racial identity and love as they began their own family together.
Robinson not only tells of her own journey through success (Naval Academy, Marine Corps, working for the Department of Homeland Security, seminary, founding a non-profit, becoming an author…) and suffering, but she does so in conjunction with the story of Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus.
A black lawyer writing about the criminal justice system from the perspective of a man who has been defending largely poor, black, southern men facing the death penalty for most of his career and who holds out hope for healing.
Ward suffered the loss of five men she loved over the course of a few years, and this memoir traces those years and those deaths and places them in the larger context of the precarious nature of being a black man in America.
Fiction for adults
Morrison’s magical-realism telling of a family that escapes from enslavement to freedom taps into the haunting loss that the legacy of slavery brought to generations of people.
This first novel of the National Book Award winning Ward depicts twin brothers struggling to grow up after graduating from high school on the gulf coast of Mississippi.
Recommended for kids and adults, both of these novels describe life in an urban and predominantly Black neighborhood, with the hardship of institutionalized racism and violence as well as the beauty of family and church and community life.
A film based on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, it explores how the United States became the nation with the largest prison population in the world and the reasons for the disproportionate number of men of color behind bars.
This film focuses on the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery as a way of telling the story of the 1960s and Martin Luther King with power and grace and an invitation for viewers to join in the march towards justice and equality.
Founded by John Perkins, this organization supports “relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation” as means of establishing communities of justice and healing
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