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Race Initiative Book Club Says It's Not About The Book

On the third Thursday of every other month the Society for History and Racial Equity(SHARE) hosts the Race Initiative Book Club. The book club formed out of a touring exhibit on race that had completed its run at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in 2011. The purpose was to keep the dialogue going. 

Last time, the group focused on the memoir My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege. In Teege’s memoir, she finds out her grandfather was a Nazi commander. The book explores how Teege deals with that fact as both a German and a black woman. But SHARE Director Donna Odom says the book club isn’t really about the book.

“We’re probably the only book club you might ever hear of that doesn’t require you to read the book. And the reason why is because the book is a catalyst to discussion. And the idea is that we want people to make connections, share their stories,” she says.

While discussing Teege's memoir, one book club member of color recalled a time that her friend was unnecessarily frisked outside a restaurant in front of a crowd of people. It's experiences like these that are vital to the book club.

Haley Wentz, SHARE’s intern didn’t read the book, but she says she appreciated the discussion because of the diverse group of people that attended:

“I thought that was really interesting because it brought together a unique group of people that otherwise wouldn’t have been brought together. Which I think is something that SHARE does really well, they work with you know anyone who really wants to get engaged positively in the community, SHARE finds a way to sort of get them engaged and get them connected with other smaller groups who do the same.”

Book club facilitator WMU Professor Emeritus Tom Holmes says the book club provides people of all races and backgrounds an opportunity to share their personal experiences:

“Anytime that there’s an exchange or someone just talking about how they’re afraid to have their sons go outside, a mother afraid to have her sons going out or having to have the talk, right. And suddenly that becomes very real when you have a mother talking about giving the talk. It’s not an abstract thing anymore, I think it becomes a real thing that changes the people.”

Holmes says these accounts can make things like racism real for people.

“So, it’s not something that’s like oh yeah that’s an injustice, it’s too bad our societies like that. No this is my friend and her sons are at risk and it feels different then,” he says. 

Odom explained the initiative of the organization in terms of racial healing, as four fold. She said the platform is based on the philosophy of transforming historical harms.

“The four parts of that are, making connections, healing, taking action, and facing history. So the book club is kind of two fold making connections and also facing history because a lot of the books that we read have to do with history and you know how things have evolved to where they are now,” says Odom.

In Teege’s memoir, she talks about how her Nazi grandfather would have treated African descendants, like herself. The book shows how history continues to affect the present. Odom says in a way, the book club is a kind of activism.

“We look at action not just as you know say participating in a march or doing something really radical like that. But actually, coming out to the book club is one way of taking action. And hopefully people will be inspired to move on from there,” she says. 

In the fall the Race Initiative book club will expand to create a children’s division. The next book club discussion will take place Thursday, September 22nd at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. This session’s book is Walking With the Wind by John Lewis.

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