What Can We Do?

I cried for several days because of the news of Ahmaud Arbery. It felt very similar, to me, to Trayvon Martin’s murder and it just gutted me. And George Floyd happened. And everything escalated.

I woke up to text messages from coworkers about the Justice Center in downtown Portland being set on fire, staff trapped in the building. I spent days glued to news and twitter and watching as protests, which started peacefully, turned violent all around the nation.

Portland loves a protest. They’ve been protesting everything for as long as I’ve lived here. I’ve participated in several protests. YEARS ago I marched against George W Bush and the war and I remember we shut down the freeways near downtown. I marched in the Women’s March. I am 100% in support of protests and marches and using your voice FOR CHANGE. My sincere hope is that the protests in the last week will spark some change. We need reform, we need checks and balances in police departments and police unions. We need good cops to stand up to shit they see, we need bad cops to be punished, and not protected by bad unions and bad contracts.

This is my opinion. I know not everyone will agree with it, but at this point, my heart hurts and I kind of don’t care. Black Lives Matter. Period. That is not a statement against anyone else, or a statement against military. It’s just a fact.

I wanted to do something positive, share something in my area of expertise. I know a lot of people feel stuck or lost or not sure how to help. You can start with knowledge. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. So here are some of my favorite books, written by African American authors. These are just a few of my favorites and I included two newer books that are very important reads and I recommend everyone pick up.

1- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said ‘You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.’”

Heavy, heavy stuff. I teared up a lot during this book. I definitely recommend this book for everyone!

This book is short. It’s a collection of short stories/essays/letters to the author’s son about race in America and his experiences growing up African American in Baltimore. It also talks about current events like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. He talked a lot about police and his fear for his son with the police.

This book was so heartbreaking and very eye-opening to the African American experiences and how current events are effecting their day to day life. It’s a hard book to read, but an important one, I think.

Despite the heavy, heartbreaking topic, the author did not come across as angry. The theme was sadness, grief and fear.

2 – Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin

I wrote a lot about this book when I reviewed it awhile ago. I won’t rehash it here. But I recommend you reading it. It’s written by his parents and it will gut you.

3 – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is an outstanding feminist writer. I loved this book in particular, but she has a lot of other great books, too. This is an autobiography of her life in New York, growing up in the 50’s as a black, gay poet and activist. She is absolutely amazing and her writing is stunning!

4 – Native Son by Richard Wright

Wow, I don’t even know what to say. I read this book for (I think) Sophomore English class and it left such a lasting impression on me I kept the book and I’ve reread it half a dozen times over the years. It’s a compelling story, one you CANNOT PUT DOWN. It is shocking. It is horrific.

It takes place in 1930’s Chicago. It’s about a race revolution, about a relationship between a white woman and a black man, a mistaken death, race, poverty, wealth, communism, social issues… It is such a good book, so worth reading.

5 – Another Country by James Baldwin

I have been a huge fan of James Baldwin since I was a teenager. I read this book in high school (on my own, not for English class or anything) and it left a really lasting impression. It takes place in the 1950’s. But it’s not a love story…it’s…about race and jazz and art and booze, and sexuality. There is racial tension, sexual identity tension. Pretty much anything by James Baldwin is worth a read.

More authors to check out:

Angela Davis

Alice Walker

Roxane Gay

Michelle Obama (her memoir was OUTSTANDING)

Here are some book lists to check out:

The 100 greatest books ever written by African American women

20 Best Books About Anti-Racism to Educate Yourself

14 books by black authors that are shaping our conversation about race

Instead of Amazon, please support a local business owned by African Americans. Here is a list you can try. And here is another list.

Stay safe, keep reading, keep listening and learning and trying to understand. Join the conversation.

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