Why I shared my Black history reading list at work
I work in Finance at MeaningSphere. Most company-wide emails I send are related to financial stewardship. But last year, on the first day of Black History Month, I sent my colleagues something a little more personal: a curated list of books and resources about Black American history and experience.
“The legacy of Black people is a testament to the power of perseverance, determination, and excellence,” I wrote in my email. “Our contributions to society, from the arts and sciences to politics and activism, have left an indelible mark on the world and continue to shape and enrich our culture today. ... This Black History Month, I challenge you to do more than just reflect on our history. I urge you to educate and inform yourself about the Black experience.”
Sending this company-wide memo, so unlike anything I’d ever sent, was not only meant to educate. It was also an act of love. I tend to be the only woman of color wherever I work. To be my authentic self at work, and forge meaningful connections with others, I feel the need to share these aspects of my culture and experience.
In the past few years, I’ve found that when I do open up to trusted colleagues about my experiences as a Black woman–from dealing with microaggressions to concerns about safety when traveling–the response has been overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging. This gave me the confidence to continue to share with, and educate, my peers.
In that spirit, I am sharing my Black History Month reading list below. These six works are a window into the multiplicity of the Black American experience. An experience that has pain but is also filled with joy and perseverance. They are meaningful to me and represent a history I never want to see overlooked or erased. I hope they inspire you at work and beyond.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: Published in 2010, this critically acclaimed non-fiction work tells the story of the Great Migration, the northward movement of African Americans out of the American South in the 20th century, through the lives of three individuals.
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. A work of historical fiction published in 2022, Take My Hand follows a young Black nurse in post-segregation Montgomery, Alabama, who sounds the alarm about unspeakable harm done to her patients at a family planning clinic.
Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines. The biography of leading Black entrepreneur A.G. Gaston, told by his niece and grand-neice, Black Titan sheds a light on wealth, class, and race in 20th century America. Gaston, who grew up in poverty, was an advocate for Black people finding greater power and influence through success in business—a position that was occasionally at odds with the Civil Rights movement of the time.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Published in 2010, this New York Times bestseller exposes the chilling ways in which the U.S. criminal justice system, by disproportionately affecting Black Americans, replicates the disenfranchisement and exploitation once codified in the Jim Crow laws. Written by a legal scholar, The New Jim Crow placed the issue of mass incarceration at the heart of the ongoing racial justice movement.
Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration by Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts. Lewis-Giggetts first wrote about “Black joy” in a June 2020 article for the Washington Post, and the concept resonated widely in the wake of the George Floyd protests. In this collection of essays, she further explores the notion of joy as a radical form of resistance in a hostile world.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Grounded in research, this bestseller written by an expert on the psychology of racism argues for the value of straightforward conversations about racial and ethnic identity as the best way to build connection and understanding, and presents readers with an entry point into productive and helpful dialogues about race.
Karen Singletary leads the Finance team at MeaningSphere.
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