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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Hands Up United and “Books and Breakfast”

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When I heard about the killing of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, by then-police officer Darren Wilson, I felt a deep sense of communal grief in the same way I did when Oscar Grant was killed at Fruitvale BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Oakland, California, a place with which I’m very familiar.

I traveled with a friend to Ferguson on two occasions: the first time was to participate in organized protests by mostly labor organizations and community gatherings about a month after Brown was killed, and the second time marked one year since Michael Brown’s death.

At that time, I was curious about how the community was recovering and, even more so, how they had used the tragedy as a vehicle for transformation. Standing on the very location where he was killed, which was still memorialized a year later, truly served as even more of a revelation of the injustice that had transpired.

I learned of one group, Hands Up United Inc., that started a project called “Books and Breakfast,” where the community chooses a book to read every month or so and a related theme, and then they come together on a Saturday morning in a public setting to have breakfast together and discuss the book and talk about what they read and understood as significant.

The types of books they choose are ones that are important for community empowerment, can be understood across generations and that encourage a collective activist spirit. And there’s the added bonus of addressing literacy deliberately, which sometimes is connected to the availability of texts that are both relatable and accessible, a challenge that often our public schools face.

And so when we consider how to address the “root causes” of community despair that is at the heart of an escalating level of violence, I like sustainable approaches that are simplistic, bring multiple generations together for conversation and are both nurturing and empowering.

Programs like “Books and Breakfast” remind participants of the depth of their cultural capital and the resilience of their ancestors, and furthermore they raise the expectations of what is yet and can be accomplished collectively as you share and uplift, share and uplift.

A cop on the beat is a Band-Aid in comparison to a consciousness-raising conversation that is grounded in imparting real knowledge from relevant texts and simultaneously partaking in a nice, healthy breakfast.

I connected with Hands Up United Inc. through a conference call they advertised on Twitter and subsequently started a “Books and Breakfast” program through a partnership with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at 40th and Illinois streets (the location for the program), the Desmond Tutu Center (a partnership between Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University) and additionally the Irwin Library of Butler University. Situated in the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood, which is still recovering from a recent series of unsolved murders, we have read and discussed books such as Radical King, The New Jim Crow, and Angela Davis’ Autobiography.

This Saturday, Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to noon, we are going to discuss the Audre Lorde compilation Sister Outsider. If you are familiar with her work, or even if you are not, please join us for breakfast and inspiring conversation. Understanding one another on a deeper level can truly serve as a deterrent to all of the violence that is happening.

Dr. Terri Jett is an associate professor of political science and special assistant to the provost for diversity and inclusivity at Butler University.

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