Winston-Salem organization working to achieve racial equity and inclusion through reading

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WINSTON-SALEN, N.C. (WGHP) — One year ago, George Floyd’s death sparked worldwide calls for racial equality. The events of the last year will undoubtedly be in history books for our children to learn about for years to come. Before those books are written, one organization in Winston-Salem is using a book already published to move the conversation forward.

“When you talk about being anti-racist you talk about undertones of bringing people together, acknowledging biases, acknowledging that they exist and then making a concerted effort to make sure they don’t unjustly and unnecessarily influence what we do,” said Brian Hart.

“My biggest hope, personally, for our programs is that parents will really create a language to speak with their children about racism and anti-racist practices and really unity and solidarity,” Esharan Monroe-Johnson said.

Esharan Monroe-Johnson is with Read, Write, Spell. That’s a nonprofit in Winston-Salem working to increase literacy with public school students. Brian Hart is the Director of the Forsyth County Public Library System. They lead two of more than 20 organizations partnering in this anti-racism initiative, Books with Purpose.

“We think this is an opportunity for both the library and Books with Purpose to have a meaningful impact with this community,” Hart explained.

“No one is too young to start having this conversation,” added Monroe-Johnson. “If you are not having this conversation with your children, they’re hearing it in other places.”

Books With Purpose kicked off this month. People across the community will read the book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. The book has been around, but the author recently released a kid’s version.

“That’s when we started thinking about this is a book that has a lot of purpose,” said Jamie Southern. “This is a book that can make a difference in the community.”

Southern is the Executive Director of Bookmarks, the literary arts nonprofit that organized the initiative. She says companies and organizations have been working for the last year toward equity and inclusion, but reaching the goal requires daily commitment.

“So it’s not we’re doing one piece of training and then we’re done…we can check the box and move on. It’s really more about how we can absorb it into everything we do this summer and really make a concentrated effort on making a positive step forward.”

Southern knows this effort won’t reach everyone.

“But I am hoping that people will get involved because it is for all ages that maybe you’ll be able to pull in some family members who aren’t maybe professing interest in the topic, but maybe you can bring them to an event, maybe you can have them sit in with you on a Zoom webinar about one of these topics or a book club discussion just to broaden the reach, broaden the circle a little bit,” she explained.

As the circle grows and the reach broadens, more becomes possible.

“I think my big hope for that is for people to come out of the summer taking one step, deepening their understanding and their knowledge of our history, knowing how we got to where we are, maybe making a plan personally with their family, their company or whatever it is of making another step forward,” Southern said.

Programming has already started, but it extends through the summer. A final event is scheduled for September. For more information on how to join the discussion, you can visit Bookmarks’ website.

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