By Blair Downie
Sign up for the 2019 Summer Reading Series here!
There’s nothing quite like a middle school environment when PSSA testing has concluded and the weather is getting warmer. As the testing coordinator of my school, my brain is pretty much jello once we ship that final box back to the DRC. It was that jello brain that desperately needed a break as I was waiting for UPS, checking the PFT Facebook page, and I saw a post advertising WE’s Summer Book Clubs. The description of the Summer Book Clubs jumped out to me: “the Reading Series will be a place to deepen our relationships with each other; expand our political analysis, and inform our organizing and teaching in the upcoming year.” This sounded appealing, even to my post-PSSA jello brain. An opportunity to spend time over the summer talking about things that I cared deeply about with other people who cared deeply of those things - sign me up!
I signed up for the group that planned to discuss So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I received an email shortly after letting me know how the book would be divided into three parts for three different meetings. I bought my copy and off I went to meet up with friends at the beach for a long weekend. While So You Want to Talk About Race may not be a traditional beach read, there I was dog-earring pages and scribbling notes in the sun. I was so excited to share my thoughts and notes at our first meeting.
As I drove down Lincoln Drive on the way to our first meeting at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, I had no idea what to expect. As somebody who struggles with being perpetually early to everything, I was, of course, one of the first people to arrive and had to walk around the building aimlessly, looking for a door. I was definitely nervous to be around a group of new people, but I’d soon learn that there was nothing to be nervous about. The first book club meeting far exceeded my expectations. Everybody was warm and welcoming and the facilitators framed the discussion with norms that made everybody a bit more comfortable. The discussions were rich, the snacks flowed freely, and two hours seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. I could never have fathomed at that moment that my first book club meeting would end up being a jumping-off point for me and so much of the work that would encompass the next year of my life. I felt like I had finally found a space that not only validated that caring about racial and social justice was vital to our role as educators but lifted up that passion in ways I could never have imagined.
When I arrived at my first book club meeting, I knew little about the Caucus of Working Educators. I learned more that summer after signing up as a member and being added to email lists. I learned, even more, when Clarice Brazas, the facilitator of my book club group, sent an invitation to a Racial Justice Organizing Committee meeting. I attended my first RJ meeting in October of the following school year and have managed to make almost every meeting since then.
My attendance at the Summer Book Club series connected me with a group of people who I feel lucky to have found. This year, I was able to support several events for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. Clarice and I presented twice for the district on becoming an anti-racist educator at Tune-Up Tuesday’s and were consequently invited to present at New Hire Orientation. We presented again at the 10th Annual TAG conference. I have worked with other core Racial Justice Organizing Committee members on developing a four-day Anti-Racist training that we hope to eventually share with other organizations on a larger scale.
I have not only had the opportunity to spend time this past school year working to advocate and organize for causes that are important to me, but I have met people who I truly enjoy spending time with and am now able to consider friends. Who knows what my year would have looked like if I hadn’t seen that Facebook post or if I hadn’t shown up to my first book club meeting. All I know is that thanks to the Summer Book Clubs hosted by WE, my year has been filled with hard work, collaboration, great discussions, a lot of learning, celebrations of accomplishments, laughter, and lots of snacks.
I implore all of you to take this opportunity to sign up for a book group and give yourself the chance to keep learning, develop new friendships, and gain inspiration to keep advocating and organizing.
Sign up for the 2019 Summer Reading Series here!
Use this link to share the registration form with your school and networks: bit.ly/2019readingregistration
And we hope to see you at the Summer Reading Series Kick Off Happy Hour this Friday, May 31st, from 4-7pm, at Barber’s Hall (1402 W. Oxford St)! Make sure to share the FB event, and here is a flyer to share with your school.